PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has said it secretly arranged security details for visiting former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo who was in the country for the launch of a book he co-authored with opposition leader Tendai Biti last week, the Daily News can report.
This comes as the opposition queried the “appalling” reception given to the African statesman by the Harare government.
On Thursday last week, Obasanjo was one of the key speakers at the book launch held at Sapes Trust in Harare. Eyebrows were raised when he attended the meeting without any State security, with opposition leader Nelson Chamisa’s security providing security cover and guard.
“This is completely against the norm, we just hosted a former head of State, I am not sure to what extent Biti had informed the authorities but that is neither here nor there,” Ibbo Mandaza, whose Sapes Trust hosted the former head of State, said.
“When the Nigeria community heard that he was coming, they went to receive him at the airport.
“He had an escort from the Nigerian embassy but there was no sign of protocol from the Zimbabwe side. It is ironic that the former president (Robert Mugabe) is the one who called, it however, did not go unnoticed.”
Obasanjo has always had a love-hate relationship with the ruling Zanu PF and of late he has upped the ante, condemning flawed electoral processes and coups, which incidentally birthed Mnangagwa’s rule.
A top MDC official pointed out that in all countries that Obasanjo had visited launching the book, he has been provided with State security.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba took umbrage at the failure by Obasanjo’s hosts to invite State authorities, but said precautionary measures were taken surreptitiously to guarantee his safety once he landed in Zimbabwe.
“We were with him in South Africa. If a former head of state is coming to the country, there are two ways of doing it. If he is being invited by his own interlocutors, those who are inviting him approach the president and the invitation is done through the necessary channels, but knowing Biti as I do, he is not the type of person to do that.
“Having said that, to the extent that he is a head of state of a friendly country, the state immediately gets interested and we were there. That you didn’t see guns means we did our job very well,” Charamba told the Daily News.
Biti told the Daily News that the State was aware of Obasanjo’s visit way in advance but the former Nigerian president was spitefully denied the five-star treatment he deserved.
“The government was informed through the Nigerian embassy, they knew he was coming but it’s only that they are afraid of democracy, that’s why they snubbed him. He is one of the most powerful persons on the continent, that is why I say we have the worst government in Africa, they are tin pots, they are the worst,” fumed Biti.
While addressing guests at the Sapes Trust offices in Harare, Obasanjo — tongue-in-cheek — expressed concern that Zimbabweans might not be able to read the book Democracy Works: Turning Politics To Africa’s Advantage.
“We are sorry for the delay in launching this book as this was not of our own making. We wanted all of you to have a copy of our book but that’s not the case. We are not sure whether you will manage to get the book,” said Obasanjo.
Copies of the book were seized by Customs officials and handed to the President’s Office, with authorities accusing Biti of trying to smuggle the books into Zimbabwe. The opposition leader, however, said he duly paid duty that the country’s tax collector Zimra had asked for.
“They just took our books. We had 200 books which we intended to give our people, but they just took them and mind you this is the second time they just took them. They just gave the excuse (about) customs and we said we can pay the duty, they refused,” he said.
The book, that is gaining world acclaim, looks at how nations can learn to nurture, deepen and consolidate democracy in Africa, and analyses transitions within and beyond the continent.
Besides Biti and Obasanjo, the book was co-authored by Greg Mills and Jeffrey Herbst, with former Liberian President Ellen John Sirleaf penning the foreword.
Obasanjo has a distinguished military career and played a key role in ending the Nigerian Civil War in 1970. He has governed Nigeria as both the head of a military administration (1975-1979) and then again as a democratically elected civilian president (1999-2007).
Obasanjo was thrust into power in Nigeria following the assassination of military ruler General Murtala Muhammed in 1976. As deputy, he took over as head of state but committed to the restoration of civilian government in Nigeria. His administration set up the Constitution Drafting Committee and the Constituent Assembly, introduced the N20 currency and established “Operation Feed the Nation,” which evolved into the “Green Revolution.” In 1979, under President Obasanjo, the military stepped aside and handed power to a democratically elected president, returning Nigeria to civilian rule. He was the first head of state and government on the African continent to ever relinquish power to a democratically elected government, peacefully and voluntarily.
Obasanjo returned to power in Nigeria from 1999 to 2007 after winning two civilian elections – 20 years after he relinquished power to civilian rule. His democratically elected administration launched a series of anti-corruption and transparency initiatives, introduced nationwide universal primary education, implemented significant banking reforms, and liberalised several industrial sectors.