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Nelson Mandela’s marks on Nigeria

In his life time Nelson Mandela advertently and inadvertently made major marks in the shaping and system of Nigeria’s politics and policies.

Any doubt as to the influence the late South African icon Nelson Mandela had on Nigeria politics is removed by the fact that one of the earliest political intrigues of the fourth republic was etched in his name; The Mandela Option was a deep political game orchestrated from the midpoint of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s first term supposedly by loyalists of his deputy, Atiku Abubakar aimed at persuading Obasanjo to serve one term just as Mandela did in South Africa.

Akin Oshuntokun, one of the key political associates of Obasanjo in a recent article distilled the Mandela Option thus:“There were orchestrated admonitions for Obasanjo to take the ‘Mandela option’; to follow the precedent of Nelson Mandela and step down after spending one term in office. There were covert and subversive manipulation of the media to render Obasanjo so unpopular as to make him unelectable. All this anti-Obasanjo propaganda were being linked to the Atiku political machine.”


As the plot unfolded and leaked to Obasanjo, die hard partisans of Obasanjo and notably governors, including Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State met regularly in the Presidential Villa to counter it with their own schemes, one of which was to drop Atiku in the second term.

The consequence of the Mandela Option was that as Obasanjo made his public declaration for a second term in 2002, that Atiku was not mentioned as his running mate for the 2003 election.

At that point Obasanjo was himself under deep pressure from Atiku’s foes in the north to drop Atiku from the presidential ticket. But the weight and influence of Atiku advised Obasanjo otherwise, as he eventually resorted to his deputy to help him secure the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP presidential ticket.

It was remarkable that as the death of Mandela was announced last Thursday, that Obasanjo in an unusual step made a broadcast from his retirement home in Abeokuta on how he took up the then South African president on his unusual pattern of serving only one term against the culture of Africa’s sit tight leaders.

According to the former Nigeria president, “Nelson Mandela modestly refused to seek re-election after his first term in office as his presidency elapsed. I still recall his pragmatic words when he said to me “Olu, show me a place in the world where a man of 80 years is running the affairs of his country’.

Obasanjo’s comments on Mandela have, however, attracted negative response from some Nigerians many of who believe that the former Nigeria president lacked such disposition and was himself desperate for a third term in office.

Obasanjo’s second term in office as civilian president it would be recalled was characterised by an expensive political game plan focussed on amending the constitution to allow the president contest a third term in office.

Did Obasanjo draw any lesson from Mandela who despite all his sacrifices for his countrymen drew back from foisting his person on his people?

Remarkably, the jury is still out on that point, but it is a fact that the consequences of the Mandela Option remain a divisive point in the country’s political landscape with the former president and his former deputy remaining ever suspicious of one another.

Even before the advent of the fourth republic, Mandela also expressed himself on the country’s affairs, notably during the Sani Abacha regime.

Mandela acted as a channel in drawing funds for family members of Moshood Abiola, whose mandate Abacha and his colleagues in the army had usurped.

As the widely respected South Africa based Nigerian professor, Professor Kole Omotoso revealed last week, Abacha passed on funds for the maintenance of the Abiola family through South Africa.

Omotoso in his tribute to Mandela had said:“During the events that followed the June 12 annulment of the election that would have seen Bashorun Abiola as president of Nigeria, President Mandela continued to interact with Sani Abacha. One of his interventions had to do with the plight of Bashorun Abiola’s family. Bashorun Abiola was in prison. His business had collapsed. His accounts had been blocked. The family approached President Mandela and he approached Sani Abacha who arranged to send money to President Mandela to be given to the family of Bashorun Abiola. And my former Vice Chancellor Professor Jakes Gerwel was the conduit for this relief fund.”

But the relationship between Mandela and Abacha was to turn seriously frosty.

Mandela as South Africa president helped in negotiating for amnesty for the Ogoni activists imprisoned by the Abacha regime.

But the devil did not allow Abacha have mercy and hence Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots were executed by the Abacha regime drawing swift response from the international community including Mandela who in some circles had been chided for being too soft on Abacha.

Responding to the execution of the Ogoni activists, Mandela said in an interview that “Abacha is sitting on a volcano and I am going to explode it underneath him.”

The killing of Ken Saro Wiwa and his compatriots brought a serious dent in the relationship between the two countries and between Mandela and Abacha as Mandela condemned it and joined the rest of the world in imposing sanctions against the Abacha regime.

In proposing for comprehensive sanctions against the Nigeria regime including prohibition of oil export, Mandela said:“What we are now proposing are short and sharp measures which will produce the results Nigerians and the world desire. We are dealing with an illegitimate, barbaric, arrogant, military dictatorship which has murdered activists, using a kangaroo court and using false evidence,” he told the South Africa Independent.

Mandela in the interview nevertheless defended his diplomatic engagements with the Abacha regime saying that the docility of the opposition within Nigeria left him with no option.

“It is of no use for Nigerian leaders to shout from abroad and not to ensure that the fires of resistance are burning inside of Nigeria,” Mr Mandela said.

In response, Abacha pulled Nigeria away from participating in the Cup of Nations tournament hosted by South Africa in January 1996 despite the fact that Nigeria was defending champion.

Comparing the weakness of the Nigerian opposition to the aggressiveness exhibited by the African National Congress, ANC against the apartheid regime, he said:

“We did not give in because international opinion would not have been mobilised if there was no vigorous and effective resistance movement inside the country. That is what is lacking in Nigeria, and Nigerian leaders that are blaming South Africa and its president are merely diverting attention from their weakness; from their failure to do what all democrats do – to ensure that there are prominent leaders inside the country who are prepared to face the music, and to challenge Abacha.”

Given Mandela’s not too commendable estimation of the Nigerian political class some would be surprised at the avalanche of commendations from the same class towards the South African former president.

Afenifere summarized the matter in a press statement entitled Emulate Mandela, Stop The Crocodile Tears” –Afenifere.

“All sides of the political equation in the country have practically taken steps to commend Mandela as a worthy son of Africa, but how many of them are ready to lay down self considerations in pursuit of the collective good for four years, not even the 74% that Mandela sat in prison, unmoving on the issue that pertain to his people!”

Source: Vanguard

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