Posted by News Express | 2 February 2019 | 1,425 times
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is certainly the most politically active ex-leader of this country. Since his departure from Aso Rock Presidential Villa, after completing his constitutional two terms in 2007, when he had to leave after his failed bid to alter the Constitution for a third term, the famous chicken farmer has continually been in the public sphere and in the news (sometimes) for selfish reasons. Just like during the long break following his first outing as military head of state between 1976 and 1979, when every other leader in the 20-year period to 1999 had a taste of his sharp criticism, this practice has returned since he left office in 2007.
From President Shehu Shagari of the Second Republic to coupists Generals Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, none escaped the volley of criticisms from Obasanjo’s sharp tongue and acidic pen.
Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) – who succeeded Abacha, after the latter’s mysterious demise in 1998 – who midwifed the democratic transition that produced Obasanjo as elected president. He only escaped the chicken farmer’s jibes because Abubakar’s brief stay was basically to conduct elections and hand over power, with Obasanjo as the eventual major
If Obasanjo’s criticism of his successors prior to 1999 could be attributed to his image as an internationally respected African statesman who, as a military leader, handed over power (some say ‘reluctantly’) to a democratically elected president in an era of sit-tight African political leaders, his continuous criticism of every other leader since 2007 has basically been image laundry, as he is apparently desperate to rehabilitate himself to the public perception of him prior to 1999.
Yes, Obasanjo emerged an international statesman after the 1979 handover, a period he also cultivated his self-righteousness. He, certainly, would have remained that way until he went into partisan politics and exposed himself for the poor political and public administrator that he eventually emerged.
Now, he is engaged in laundering his image under the pretense of pursuing the betterment of his fatherland. How Obasanjo can still come out to espouse the rudiments of better government and governance is a measure of our warped socio-political system. But Obasanjo has been doing exactly that since 2007, the latest being his call on Buhari in last January, to step down and not to seek re-election in 2019; his reason being that the president has failed Nigerians, as he claimed the President’s performance had not met the high expectations of the
popular acceptance of his candidacy in preference to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. Obasanjo went further to announce the formation of the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), a political movement which he christened “The Third Force”, as alternative platform for the replacement of the president in 2019.
Those who know Obasanjo very well recognise that his latest venture has the trappings of ego trip, encompassed in his desire to be seen as father of modern Nigeria, a position he is most unsuited for, considering his history since he blazed into presidential power in 1976. He possesses the rare knack and competence for attracting to himself undeserved reliance for providing solutions that are just not within his capacity. How he is able to do this is a study in the manipulation of the media and the public.
Right from the beginning, specifically after his handover in 1979, this public perception manipulation has gone a long way in establishing him as the voice that counts most, a position not equalled by any other former Nigerian leader. And he thrived and still thrives to maintain that image, a battle he has been engaged in since 1979. But for how long will he continue to paint a picture of himself with strokes made not from the brush of artistic exactitude?
When in October 1979 he left office in a blaze of glory, Obasanjo never envisaged any question, especially on financial misappropriation, on his nearly four years at Dodan Barracks, the then seat of power in Lagos. So, when the story reemerged a few days
immediately after he left office, about the rumoured “Nine tons of Nigerian currency notes” that was very hot the year before, Obasanjo sought presidential denial of the allegation, with his call that an investigative panel be set up to investigate the matter. And when this was not forthcoming, Obasanjo developed a large grudge against the Shagari government, igniting a barrage of his criticism of that government. Shagari's reluctance to comment on the matter nor set up the Obasanjo-craved investigative panel gave the rumour some credibility, especially with the news reports in mid-November 1979 that the Nigerian Senate might prevail upon the former head of state to come and explain to the upper legislative chamber the involvement of his regime in the matter. The allegation was that in preparation for his departure from office, Obasanjo had, in 1978, attempted to smuggle “Nine tons of Nigerian currency notes” (believed to run into hundreds of millions) from the country, via Uganda, but that the plane was intercepted at the Entebbe Airport in Kampala, and the money seized by the regime of then Ugandan dictator, Field Marshal Idi Amin. A request to this effect was made to the Senate on 13th November 1979, by the controversial Senator Sabo Bakin Zuwo of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) from Kano Central. It had led to a rowdy session where the Senate was divided over the matter, and no resolution reached.
While Obasanjo was yet to come to terms with the negative effects of that accusation, the Shagari government constituted the Irikefe Panel the following year, 1980, to investigate the N2.8 billion that allegedly got missing from (NNOC, forerunner to) NNNPC accounts during Obasanjo's regime. Interestingly, Gen Muhammadu Buhari was the Minister of Petroleum then (and the target of the allegation). The panel invited Obasanjo to testify before it, an action the former head of state obviously considered audacious and degrading to his status. An incensed Obasanjo had to secure a court injunction not to appear.
Not even the award of the highest national honour, the prestigious Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on him by Shagari in September 1981 – which made him to join Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria's first ceremonial president, as the privileged two to have received the award then – could mellow down Obasanjo's criticism. The height of which was his, as usual, well-publicised November 1983 exclusive interview with then Editor of Sunday Concord, Dele Giwa. This was published on November 13, 1983, a month before the overthrow of that government (actually on December 31). He had accused President Shagari’s government of wanton corruption: “The money that has disappeared cannot come back.” He then advised the government to persuade the corrupt politicians and their acolytes with millions of looted funds abroad to return the money to the country for investment: “But a little bit of it can come back, because they are still in the hands of Nigerians, without them losing the money.” This was setting the stage for the downfall of that democratically-elected government. When, therefore, according to Babangida, the New Year Eve coupists approached Obasanjo in late 1983, with their plan, presumably in order to douse international outrage against the overthrow of a democratically-elected government, the chicken farmer happily gave his nod for the overthrow of a government whose legitimacy was rooted in his democratic transition programme.
But clearly not wishing to be seen as being instrumental to the fall of a democratically-elected government, especially in the international community where he still commanded respect, Obasanjo set about setting agenda for the Buhari government for a return to civilian rule. And after Buhari’s military regime had settled and went further to announce that the Supreme Military Council (SMC), the highest decision-making body of his government, was a continuation of the defunct Supreme Military Council (SMC), Obasanjo was quick to denounce this, if only to disparage Buhari’s government, by drawing a distinction between his (actually Murtala Mohmmed’s) government that had executed a democratic transition plan and Buhari's that did not announce any such intentions. Therefore, Obasanjo’s unforgettable speech, delivered to the annual conference of the Agricultural Society of Nigeria, in Ibadan, 22 days before the overthrow of Buhari’s government, precisely on August 5, 1985, auspiciously titled Nigeria: The Way Forward, where he continued his criticism of the Shagari government, and called for another democratic transition, presumably seeking another military government that would transfer power to a democratically elected
government: “Let me assert my belief that Nigeria’s second experiment at Western-type democratic form of government failed, not due to the fault of the system but due to the fault of the operators of the system. Until 1979, I was by virtue of my training and upbringing what you might call a system man. I believe that if a system was good and well-founded, any person with average ability could make it work.”
In defence of Buhari’s take-over of Shagari’s government, Obasanjo added: “Let me remind the political ideologues and puritans within and without, that considering, particularly, our experiment and experience of recent past, I will not now regard military administration as an aberration. I am concerned more with good government.”
Ironically, Obasanjo also called for another round of democratic transition to usher in a democratic government.
The implication of this, therefore, is that Obasanjo exonerated himself from the failure of the Second Republic and put the blame at the doorstep of the political class, for the return of military rule, which he considered as the best option to this failure; thereby, achieving his personal and selfish agenda of the exit of a “tactless and disrespectful Shagari” (in the words of one celebrated columnist), with the return of military rule. Babangida’s overthrow of Buhari’s government later that month was well-received by Obasanjo, who easily took a shine to the gap-toothed General, especially with Babangida’s early promise of a return to civilian rule, the success of which would also be to Obasanjo’s personal favour: an African statesman who was preaching democracy across the continent, but whose home country was under military dictatorship.
But as characteristic of Obasanjo, he, not quite long after, resumed his criticism of every government in power, pointing out governance defects, most of which his own government could not acceptably execute, especially Babangida’s own military-to-civilian transition (programme).
Obasanjo made himself the critic-in-chief of the Babangida regime, with no major event going by without him making his comment public, and most times critical. So much so that in nominating him as its first “Man of the Year” winner in 1988, in its annual Man of the Year ritual, The Guardian gave as one of its major reasons for his choice, the watchdog role the General was playing with his criticism of the Babangida dictatorship, and keeping the government on its toes.
Following the nation-wide outrage that greeted the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the Babangida regime came up with the idea of the Interim National Government (ING) to run the affairs of government after his departure on August 27, 1993 and to conduct another presidential election, to douse the suspicion that the election was cancelled because Babangida did not want to relinquish power. The political class was divided over accepting the ING option which, as later revealed and subsequently confirmed by him, had Obasanjo's input. The ING option lost steam when Chief MKO Abiola, winner of the election went against it and was able to win over both members of his party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and the opposition National Republican Convention (NRC) to turn it down and insisted on his mandate, instead.
In the heat of the moment, Obasanjo issued a preliminary report by an interim committee set up by the Association for Democracy and Good Governance in Nigeria (ADGGN), Obasanjo's brain-child. The committee, which was made up of Obasanjo and other senior citizens like Dr Datti Ahmed, Alhaji Mammud Waziri, Dr Onyemobi Onuoha and Gen Adeyinka Adebayo, reportedly consulted widely with various interest groups and individuals, seeking ways to resolve the crisis, and concluded that after three hours of meeting with Abiola, members “left with the impression that the only solution acceptable to the president-elect is his installation on August 27.”
However, on Monday, July 26, 1993, Obasanjo added a twist to the committee’s position. While addressing reporters in his Ota Farm, he gave a clear impression that he would not mind the jettisoning of the June 12 mandate, so long as Babangida was made to quit on August 27. His words: “Ninety-nine per cent of Nigerians who voted on June 12 voted for a change, and if they are denied that personality, they should not be denied a change.”
Never one to shy away from confrontation, Abiola returned Obasanjo’s salvo with equal measure. Receiving a delegation of supporters from Ondo, Edo and Lagos states at his Ikeja, Lagos residence the following day, precisely on Tuesday, July 27, 1993, Abiola downplayed the weight of Obasanjo’s voice, with Abiola’s innuendo, which also enjoyed wide publicity, that “the beauty of democracy is that it puts an end to the magic circle. A former head of state is the same as everybody else.”
In the heat of the June 12 annulment fiasco, when Nigeria was in turmoil over what could become of the nation if Babangida did not hand over power on the landmark date of August 27, came the news from faraway Zimbabwe, that Obasanjo, on a visit to that country, had told reporters that Abiola was not the messiah Nigerians had been waiting for, a comment which provoked nation-wide bursts of outrage back home, with many commentators insisting Nigerians did not expect a messiah and did not vote for one.
Responding to the outrage his comment generated, Obasanjo, in an opinion piece he sent to The Guardian, explained that he was asked if, indeed, Nigeria could explode if Abiola was not sworn in; and he had only responded that such a scenario was unlikely, because Abiola was not a messiah. But despite this explanation, most Nigerians remained aghast that Obasanjo could be so obtuse about the mood of the nation regarding the June 12 annulment.
However, not a few Nigerians could trace Obasanjo’s comments to his old subtle rivalry with Abiola. For Abiola, at that time, commanded more respect and following than Obasanjo, both in their native Egba homeland and across Yorubaland, because Abiola’s life symbolised the
ideal Yoruba aristocrat: a FIRST CLASS DEGREE from a UK university, an admirable working career as an administrator who rose to become the chief executive of the Nigerian subsidiary and the international vice-president heading the African and Middle-East operations of International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) Inc., a multi-billion dollar multi-national company, not to mention Abiola’s revered reputation as Nigeria’s richest man and Africa's leading investor, with investments spread across the globe like octopus. Abiola had crowned all these with the award of the highest chieftaincy title in Yorubaland, Aare Ona Kakanfo (Field Marshal) of Yorubaland, to him. And he was set to attain the highest office in the land; not the soldier who rose to the highest office, not by any exceptional brilliance, calculation or scheming, but by mere fluke. Apparently, Obasanjo would rather be seen as the messiah by his support of an interim government. Yet, again, he achieved personal agenda under the guise of nationalism.
But if Shagari, Buhari and Babangida did not see or pretend not to see through Obasanjo's facade, not Abacha. Reflective of the similar position he took immediately Buhari overthrew the Shagari government in 1983, Obasanjo, in his first major comment after Abacha took over, became Abacha’s hero with his (Obasanjo’s) rationalisation of Abacha’s emergence with Obasanjo’s ruling out of an early disengagement of the military from politics. Speaking at a seminar organised in Lagos by the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM) on March 17, 1994, precisely four months after Abacha took over, Obasanjo deliberately did not specifically put the blame on Abacha, but on the high level of politicisation of the military and officers’ love of the perquisites of office; his blame also went to the civil society which, he claimed, provided the enabling environment and leverage for the success of military participation in politics, because, as he put it, “No military government can thrive without the collaborative support of the civil society.”
But Obasanjo's support for Abacha’s regime did not stop there. When Abiola was arrested, following his declaring himself president on the first anniversary of the June 12 election, in 1994, Obasanjo stood behind Abacha. On Wednesday, July 13, 1994 came the news that
Obasanjo had sent fax messages to Yoruba obas, requesting they beg Abacha to free Abiola. To also facilitate their journey to Abuja, he had also made moves for flight and accommodation arrangements for the meeting billed to take place on Saturday, July 16, 1994. However, this call was turned down by some prominent Yoruba obas, especially Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, who was said to have told Obasanjo that he (Obasanjo) had no such mandate to organise such a meeting between Yoruba obas and Abacha. The position of the Yoruba obas was that they would not beg Abacha to release Abiola.
This position by the obas, and the public outcry against Abiola’s arrest and detention, no doubt, caused Obasanjo to change his own position about the Abacha regime, especially considering Abacha's broadcast of Wednesday, August 17, 1994, where he announced the
dissolution of the executive councils of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), and the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), unions which had become a pain in the neck of the regime following the nationwide strikes and protests these bodies had called to protest the June 12 annulment on the first anniversary of the election, and Abacha's refusal to reverse the annulment.
Obasanjo's reaction was an eight-page statement on Sunday, August 21, 1994, where he raised the alarm on the Abacha government, warning that the country was continuously moving towards the edge of the precipice.
Entitled “Moving Away from the Precipice”, he took on the regime of Abacha, declaring that “the current phase of our national crisis and its attendant consequences and implications may remain with us for a while.”
There was no restraint on Obasanjo's side, as he lamented: “The main parties are still entrenched in their original positions, with the hardening of their stands.” His most memorable barb in that statement was his insistence that “Abiola should not have been arrested in the first place, let alone being charged to court.”
And Abacha who had been literally watching Obasanjo with squinted eyes, with his initial support for his government, brought his full focus on his former commander-in-chief. When, therefore, there came the news on November 3, 1994, that Obasanjo had formed a political organization - the National Unity Organisation (NUO) - and that he had concluded arrangements to embark on a nationwide political campaign tour to drum up support for the organisation, the purpose of which was to enhance Obasanjo's commitment to the restoration of virile and enduring democracy in Nigeria, Abacha had had enough. Addressing a
group of eminent politicians at his Ota farm the following day, Obasanjo disclosed that he, in concert with other eminent Nigerians, had decided to form a political party that would heal the wounds of the past and build a stronger and more united Nigeria.
And the dark-goggled General did not waste time in arresting him three months later, in February 1995, and framing him up on a phantom coup plot that consummated in a chilling 30 years jail term for treason. The sentence was later commuted to 15 years following international outcry and local scepticism of the coup story.
It was not well known, and it remains perplexing to many political historians, why Obasanjo initially supported the Abacha regime, but it certainly could be that having supported the Interim National Government (ING) option against the much more popular insistence on
June 12, a position that, no doubt, contributed to the emergence of Abacha's regime, Obasanjo needed to support the Abacha regime to succeed, especially with his clear assumption that Abacha would engage in a genuine democratic transition, as a successful democratic transition by Abacha would support and strengthen Obasanjo’s position on the ING option and weaken public antagonism towards his ignoble role, yet another action in Obasanjo's nationalisation of his personal agenda.
Virtually snatched from the jaws of death by Abacha's mysterious death in 1998, it was an emaciated Obasanjo who emerged from prison and was repackaged and bankrolled by his northern military colleagues, including Babangida, for the presidency, as compensation to the South-west for the denial of the office to Abiola.
Being elected an executive president for two terms, 1999-2007, was therefore an opportunity for Messiah Obasanjo to re-enact what he had been claiming for 20 years, with the expectations of Nigerians very high on a repeat of the non-existent glorious years of his first outing he had proudly used as reference point. An unforgettable measure of how much he could not deny his grand failure was his response following barrage of criticisms, after he left office, that he was not brought from retirement to fix Nigeria's multifarious problems, but to hold the country together from imminent break-up, which he was able to achieve. Now, what was that again? (He fixed telecommunications, most vibrant sector of the economy today).
Obasanjo's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the anti-corruption agency he set up, which was headed by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, was a tool in his hand to persecute and hound political opponents (just as it is now), with no question asked about his own government, and with Ribadu later admitting that Obasanjo was more corrupt than Abacha. With fronts, Obasanjo bought into corporate Nigeria, becoming the largest shareholder in Transcorp, a company heavily favoured by his government with questionable concessions and juicy contracts from his government.
What about the $16 billion wasted on electricity without corresponding results? Obasanjo’s government redefined electoral fraud, economic sabotage, corruption and political witch-hunting. No question is being asked about his new and sudden wealth that made him to build a multi-billion naira private university after leaving office. Today, staggered gubernatorial elections are held across the country, courtesy of Obasanjo’s manipulation of the election process that brought about judicial nullification of electoral victories and sacking of incumbent governors. Political killings rose to an unprecedented level under Obasanjo, with many unresolved, including that of Chief Bola Ige, his Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. It was during Obasanjo’s government Nigerians witnessed the unprecedented massacre of defenseless civilians in Odi, Bayelsa State, and Zaki-Biam, Benue State, allegedly ordered by Obasanjo, and which drew the condemnation of the international community. How can Nigerians ever forget the televised display of Ghana-must-go bags of dollar bills on the floor of the National Assembly, as “financial motivation” offered them by Obasanjo to support his failed third term agenda?
Like the unimpressive results in most socio-political fronts, the economic front witnessed no appreciable poverty reduction during Obasanjo’s eight years, as Nigeria rated poor in the Global Human Capital Development Index.
The crowning of Obasanjo's inglorious second coming was the 2007 presidential election where he hounded out or witch-hunted leading aspirants like Gen Babangida and Atiku Abubakar, Obasanjo’s vice, two forces that stood against his third term ambition, and hand-picked Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua. Obasanjo’s reasons being that they were corrupt, insinuating that his choice was based on national interest, when in reality, it was simply based on his desire for a president he could manipulate and who would guarantee his immunity while he savoured his ill-gotten wealth in retirement. His hand-picked winner would later confess that the election that brought him to power was fraudulent, and promised to reform the electoral process (which has not changed).
By the time Yar’Adua instigated a legislative probe of Obasanjo’s government on power, where it eventually emerged that his government wasted $16 billion on his power project, and Obasanjo kept at arm’s length, his old grudges against sitting presidents had resurfaced, but not again any more reference to a non-existent first glorious outing, for new generation Nigerians had come to recognise his hypocrisy and administrative limitations.
Yar’Adua’s worsening ill-health gave a restless Obasanjo an opportunity to ensure the exit of a puppet who was going out of control, with Obasanjo as the first to call on Yar’Adua to resign if his health could no longer stand the rigours of his office. When Yar’Adua eventually passed on, Obasanjo was again at the forefront for vice-president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, who had taken over from his late boss, to contest, against their party’s zoning policy. Both Yar’Adua and Jonathan were acknowledged reluctant presidential materials whom Obasanjo FORCED on Nigerians for selfish reasons.
Jonathan’s final victory in 2011 brought back to relevance an Obasanjo whose political influence had drastically waned. Not only had Obasanjo, at that time, come to be recognised as the African statesman who willingly handed over power to civilians in 1979, the African elder statesman who set agenda for his successors for 20 years with guiding criticism, and the returnee president who held his country together for eight years, saving it from the brink of disintegration, he had come to be known as the nationalist godfather of Nigerian politics who hand-picked his democratic successor and determined his new successor. What a perfect manipulation of public perception.
Buhari’s historic victory was well received by most Nigerians, but admittedly, his performance so far has not met the general high public expectations of a drastic change. The President admitted much when he said he had underestimated the extent of damage done to the system by 16 years of PDP misrule. The President could be accused of a few
shortcomings, but nobody can accuse him of corruption, one of the major banes of our political leadership, and the major cause of our present national backwardness. His incorruptibility is his major selling point, the enviable parameter with which his main opponent shall be judged and faulted, considering the antecedents of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the PDP.
It must be admitted that if Obasanjo had been given similar treatment like the ones he meted out to Buhari when Obasanjo came to power in 1999 and throughout his eight-year rule, Obasanjo, in Buhari's shoes, would have ensured same or worse treatment were returned, support or no support of the tormentor towards his eventual victory. Immediately Obasanjo came to office in 1999, he scrapped the Petroleum Trust Fund (PDF), the intervention agency established by Abacha and headed by Buhari, and retained by Abubakar; an action Buhari read as a move against him, a view which he later voiced out.
When Buhari stood against Obasanjo under the defunct ANPP in 2003, the latter, confident of the ignoble and evil strategies mapped out to rig his way back to office, sent military tanks to strategic locations across the North, including Buhari’s Daura hometown in Katsina State,
to prevent popular uprising against the abominable and unconscionable rigging that election eventually became. In 2007, Obasanjo supported fellow Katsina candidate Yar’Adua against Buhari for the office, and in 2011, an emotionally laden Buhari could not hold back tears as he rounded off his campaign tour with a promise that it would be his last attempt at the office.
It was therefore understandable when in late 2016, an Obasanjo aide, Alex Nwokedi, revealed that his boss had insisted on Buhari not seeking re-election in 2019.
Obviously scared of the possibility of the “Abacha treatment”, a furious Obasanjo had quickly ordered a public statement denying it, and even added that he had not spoken with Nwokedi in three years!
Babangida it was who ironically came to Obasanjo’s rescue when he called a meeting between himself, Obasanjo and Abubakar at his Minna Hilltop home in early May, 2018. The agenda of which was said to be their fears of the rudderless state of national affairs with Buhari on a protracted UK medical trip that had given rise to speculations that the President was critically ill and might be unable to complete the remaining years of his first term. The story continued that the three former military colleagues of the President were considering
requesting he resigned on May 29, the second anniversary of his inauguration, and hand over to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, to take charge for the remaining two years. A northerner was said to being selected to be sworn in as vice, pending his election in 2019, to complete Buhari’s northern slot.
If Obasanjo’s critical voice was not expected to be loud during a Buhari civilian government, that of Babangida was not expected to be heard. Not a few well-informed and observant Nigerians had considered the probability of Babangida going on exile in the event of a Buhari
come-back, considering how much animosity the President was believed to habour against his trusted former Chief of Army Staff, for Babangida it was who orchestrated the coup that led to Buhari’s downfall, and which earned Babangida the enduring enmity of his former
So, Obasanjo's initial caution in openly criticising Buhari’s government could be juxtaposed against how much harm Buhari could do him if the President so wished. But when the President did not respond to the Babangida-led meeting for him to step down on health grounds, clearly because he could definitely not fathom a Babangida leading such meeting for no other reason other than genuine patriotism, especially together with the two other former heads of state, Obasanjo took the cue on the President’s new democratic credential of accommodating divergent views, to lead his own call with his January 2018 broader “special statement”, which the President did not also respond to. And Obasanjo was back in his old game of political rehabilitation and relevance via pseudo-nationalism. The latest being the fusion of his CNM with the African Democratic Congress (ADC), one of the registered but little known political parties, the purpose of which is said to drive out of power the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Congress (PDP) at all levels of government to rescue Nigeria.
It however will be the height of intellectual dishonesty to deny the wild enthusiasm that greeted Obasanjo’s last January intervention, as the Nigerian masses across the country had since lost the euphoria with which they anticipated the promised change sold to them by the President and his APC. The ambiguity and complexity of the Obasanjo invention cannot miss the eyes of the discerning, however.
From a popular and thrilling and invigorating perception, his January 2018 intervention has come to be seen as singularly aimed at hoodwinking the undiscerning into seeing him as the symbol of a better Nigeria.
The intervention has since found itself in a state of flux, the crowning of which is Obasanjo's declared support for his well-known arch-enemy, Atiku Abubakar – whose ambition Obasanjo had vehemently vouched to truncate – against Buhari’s second term ambition.
First, the question of who would constitute members of the reformed and energised ADC arose. While Obasanjo conceded that with the securing of a political platform, “in line with my clear position, which I have often repeated, the first phase of my job is done.” He had also said he would “not be a member of the party but pledge to keep alive and active on Nigerian and African issues and interests, and offer advice to any individual for the unity and development of the country.” And party chairman, Chief Ralph Nwosu, had said the merger
inspired by Obasanjo would ensure a new leadership that would be value-driven and a role model to Nigerians, and had added that the ADC was open to new engagements and alliances with more political parties, assuring that the party would use the 2019 polls to tackle the problem of failed leadership.
Essentially, even disgruntled APC and PDP members were invited and expected to join this reformed ADC. Not only had Obasanjo, during his letter announcing the formation of the CNM last January, said the movement needed not necessarily become a political party but rather that it should be a movement for democracy, good governance, and progress, he had also promised that he would break link with the movement if it decided to become a political party, because of his avowed non-partisanship. But now the movement is a party, partisan and seeking “new engagements and alliances” with more political parties.
Obasanjo who had claimed he broke off with his old party, the PDP, because it derailed from the ideals of its foundation leaders like himself, has also recently claimed to have forgiven those who had offended him in his former party. But following the clear vision that all Obasanjo desires is to be seen as the rallying point to unseat President Buhari, he is back to embracing his old party with his pardon, if only the party will be useful in achieving his goal. The height of his hypocrisy is his endorsement of Atiku Abubakar, as he has clearly come to realise that the ADC lacks the structure and national strength required to unseat a sitting president, not to mention flushing out the two major parties from federal and state executive
and legislative offices.
Subsequently, Buhari has had to break off his dignified silence to cast aspersions on Obasanjo's credibility to criticise him, with his allusion in late May, to a certain former head of state who bragged that he had spent $16 billion on power, with nothing to show for it. Obasanjo has since responded that he is ready for probe. But, of course, he is only playing to the gallery with the new populism his latest intervention has garnered for him.
Any enlightened Nigerian ought to know that, in the present circumstances, the Buhari government will never initiate nor instigate any form of probe of Obasanjo’s government. Not really because the President is incapable of that, but because it will cause too much bad
blood in the south, especially in Obasanjo’s South-west, a region that played a significant role in the President’s election and is undoubtedly very strategic to his re-election calculations; probing Obasanjo will, therefore, only result in political deficits for the President’s re-election bid, as a probe will only aim at the singular objective of sending Obasanjo to jail, to shut him up and to incapacitate him. Which southerner will campaign let alone vote for the President’s re-election with Obasanjo in jail (with all the sins enumerated?), especially with a large number of southerners already disenchanted with the President whose performance, so far, is taking long to be fully felt by the people? Obasanjo realises this, and not exactly because he is not fit for jail or that he is beyond jail.
Then Buhari came with the sucker punch: the official recognition of Abiola as the winner of the controversial June 12, 1993 presidential election, declaring the date in replacement of May 29 as the official Democracy Day, and making it a national holiday, and also awarding the nation’s highest national honour, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Abiola.
With this singular action, the President has wormed his way into the heart of the South-West, a region very strategic to his re-election bid. Expectedly, the action has received wild and nation-wide appreciation, but particularly in the South-West.
Obasanjo, the eventual major beneficiary of the annulment had not only markedly avoided the June 12 subject, but had outrightly ensured its relevance was stationed at the back burner of national political gimmickry throughout his eight-year reign. Many Nigerians could trace Obasanjo’s lukewarm attitude towards the June 12 issue to his subtle rivalry with Abiola, at the expense of patriotism and nationalism.
Second, to remember Obasanjo’s interventions in Nigeria’s checkered political history since October 1979, is to remember how far and how much a man can go to nationalise personal interests, with his advancing of personal agenda through nationalism pretensions. Obasanjo is only exploiting the moment to try to secure his reputation as an elder statesman and to erase memories of his past dismal performance, especially between 1999 and 2007.
When Atiku Abubakar won the PDP ticket and paid him a visit at his Abeokuta residence mid-October, Obasanjo did a volte-face. His position has changed because he has reviewed his stance on not backing his former deputy for the presidency of Nigeria. Yes! he exclaims, Atiku Abubakar has “re-discovered and re-positioned himself” and is now good enough to
enjoy his support in the next election! And how did Atiku Abubakar re-discover and re-position himself? Obasanjo averred: “From what transpired in the last couple of hours or so, you have shown remorse; you have asked for forgiveness and you have indicated that you have learnt some good lessons and you will mend fences and make amends as necessary and as desirable.”
Obasnjo's position has suddenly changed. “It is not so much what you did against me that was the issue but what you did against the party, the government and the country”, were his words when Atiku Abubakar visited him.
The truth is that the Obasanjo’s intervention is nothing but a treacherous contrivance. Faced with the stark reality that the present generation of Nigerians has seen through his facade, Obasanjo continues to resort to unrestrained indulgence in playing Father of Modern
Nigeria, instead of restraining himself to savouring his ill-gotten wealth at his Ota farmstead.
No, sir, that is too smooth! Atiku Abubakar will not be elected to be your personal president. It is as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria! Let other Nigerians judge as well! If Nigeria were to be a decent society, Atiku Abubakar, along with Obasanjo, ought to be
languishing in jail by now. Yes, these two were both indicted by the Nigerian Senate in March 2007 over their mismanagement of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) during their reign, and which ran into hundreds of millions of dollars. However, Obasanjo could not follow to the next stage by ordering his own trial as well as that of his deputy. Neither could Yar’Adua, his immediate successor, muster the political will, nor could Jonathan, nor now Buhari. That is the more reason why Obasanjo has the effrontery to
endorse Atiku Abubarkar.
A man who, only in 2017, questioned the crowning of Alhaji Aliko Dangote as Africa’s richest man, wondering how Dangote could be the richest in Nigeria just because he took his money to the stock market, is the same man now telling Nigerians that he earned N60.2 million in three years. So, where did he get the billions of dollars with which he was insinuating he was richer than Dangote? What business does he do to be richer than Dangote?
While it is clear to the discerning mind that all Obasanjo craves is recognition, political rehabilitation and relevance, and respectability, power-hungry politicians like Atiku Abubakar and his gang are clinging to the tail of Obasanjo's coat to climb to power. In the process, Obasanjo's true intentions are mixed up with their own ambitions, which cannot blind the mind of the discerning to the true reality.
Nigerians will definitely return President Muhammadu Buhari, who, with his COMMENDABLE foundation-laying performance in his first term, will, in a second term, consolidate on the change he has promised.
Nigerians know and understand President Buhari. They recognise the man whose government has impacted positively on their lives with its three-point agenda of Economy Growth, Security and Fight Against Corruption; and whose changes are taking time in reflecting due to the deep level of decay bequeathed to it by 16 years of PDP misrule. They have come to recognise his present challenges and the need for continuation to complete the assignment they mandated him in 2015, with a second term this year. It is the right of the Nigerian people to decide against Buhari or against Atiku Abubakar and co this year. How much the Nigerian people decide on this right will be the determinant of the outcome of the election next month.
If today, Chief Matthew Okikiola Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo is asked what he hopes to achieve by his latest venture, his response, with characteristic doggedness and determination, will definitely be that he desires a better Nigeria than the one presently managed by the
President, based on his love and passion for his fatherland; his patriotism and nationalism. But can he truly love Nigeria more than Gen Yakubu Gowon, more than Gen Ibrahim Babangida, more than Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar, or more than Dr Goodluck Jonathan, all living former Nigerian former leaders like himself? Or even more than any ordinary Nigerian in the street?
The truth is that Chief Obasanjo craves recognition for seeking a better Nigeria; he desires political rehabilitation and relevance for giving his best, which he erroneously assumes was good enough, and wishing same from the president; and he wishes respectability for all his efforts in preventing the President’s re-election. However, in his desperate attempts for recognition, for political rehabilitation and relevance, and for respectability (for a three-term head of state?), he has clearly failed to take into account the sophistication of the new generation Nigerians who form the bulk of the electorate and who will decide who will be elected and sworn in as President on Wednesday, May 29, 2019.
This new generation Nigerians are the social media generation who passionately follow and analyse every news and latest development. They can take and stand by their decision.
They shall weigh both candidates: their antecedents, their track records, their potentials. And going by the calibre of the presidential candidates standing against him, most Nigerians, no doubt, are of the firm belief that President Muhammadu Buhari shall be re-elected for a second term, come next month.
•Ms Onyechi Anyadike is resident in Lagos.
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