As Nigeria prepares for presidential elections in 2011, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo addressed criticisms surrounding his role in bringing President Umaru Yar’Adua to power, denying allegations that the vote was highly flawed and that he knew of Yar’Adua’s ongoing health problems.
“I knew there was a time he was on dialysis, but before that decision was taken I asked for his medical report, and he had ceased to be on dialysis,” Obasanjo said in an interview with VOA Wednesday. “He had a clean bill of report.”
Obasanjo said he selected Yar’Adua as the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) 2007 presidential candidate because of what he perceived as Yar’Adua’s intellectual capacity and personal integrity, and because Yar’Adua was a religious moderate.
Although international observers questioned the validity of the 2007 elections, Obasanjo asserted that the elections were fair and reflected the will of the Nigerian people.
“If the people of Nigeria decide to vote for PDP, should PDP go to them and say 'don’t vote for us',” he asked, responding to criticism that Nigeria is effectively a one-party state.
Nigeria has been in turmoil since Yar’Adua became incapacitated earlier this year, and confusion ensued over whether Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, since named acting president, was authorized to rule in Yar’Adua’s stead.
According to Obasanjo, the confusion regarding the transition of leadership was a growing pain for Nigeria’s relatively young constitution.
“Our constitution is only about 11-years-old. And as we practice the new democracy, as we put it into operation, the rough edges will be smoothened. This is one of the rough edges that have to be smoothened,” he said.
Looking ahead to the 2011 election, Obasanjo denied that Acting President Jonathan will be prevented from running for the presidency because he is not from the north. An informal power-sharing agreement rotates the presidency between the mainly-Muslim north and largely-Christian south every two terms, and the north has not completed its full eight years.
“There’s no arrangement that precludes any Nigerian from contesting or from becoming the president of Nigeria,” said Obasanjo of the possibility that Jonathan might run, but added that he did not know Jonathan’s intentions.
Obasanjo also addressed the impact of fraud charges being levied against PDP party chairman Vincent Ogbulafor, saying that if Ogbulafor has to step aside as chairman it will not affect the party. Waiting in the wings are “hundreds of people who could be chairmen of that party,” he said.
On the question of whether his and subsequent administrations have managed to curb the ongoing problems of insecurity in Nigeria, particularly in Jos and the Niger Delta, Obasanjo defended the efforts he and others have made.
“I believe that we are really biting at it,” he said of unrest in the Delta region. “And every little effort is bound to cumulatively lead us to a solution for the Niger Delta.”
Despite his evident continuing interest in Nigerian politics, Obasanjo stated that he is enjoying retirement and that “there is life after the presidency,” adding that it was easy for him to leave politics because he felt he had something to go back to.
Obasanjo related the observations of a fellow president who came to visit him on his farm. “Now I see, your profession is farming,” the president told him. “Being president of Nigeria is a hobby.”
You can watch the full Straight Talk Africa interview with President Obasanjo here.