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OBJ: Between Elder Statesman And Political Bigot

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In this report, JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH examines the issues raised by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari and the plethora of reactions that have continued to trail them.

On Tuesday, the media, both the social and traditional platforms, went on overdrive when former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter to President Muhammadu Buhari asking him not to run for a second term in the 2019 presidential poll went viral. In a 13-page letter to Buhari, Obasanjo advised the president not to run in 2019 because he (Buhari) has not only performed below expectations but also lacks the capacity to govern Nigeria.

As the missive, which has been described in different terms, including scud missile, bombshell and dynamite, keeps generating more dust in the country’s political firmament, not a few Nigerians said they saw it coming. They said from their observations, it quite glaring that the Nigeria’s foremost correspondence drafter, Obasanjo, would strike at any moment.

They cited an important speech on leadership he delivered at Oxford University about two weeks ago as ominous sign that the former president was up to something. At the event, Obasanjo praised some African leaders, but left out the president of his own country.

The former president named three African countries whose leaders, he said, are taking progressive economic measures and making great strides in line with the demands of the 21st century. He specifically quoted President Allassane Ouatarra for “focusing on the transformative potential in Côte d’Ivoire”.

Mr. Obasanjo said that deep economic literacy has long been identified as a key requirement for any African leader to implement pragmatic economic solutions.

“Not surprisingly, to the heights of command of the economies that work well in Africa today are some of the best managers who have proven their worth in leading international financial institutions and focused professionals who know their onions”, Obasanjo said while listing Rwanda and Ethiopia as the other two countries that have good relations with Côte d’Ivoire.

It was not immediately clear why Obasanjo left out Buhari, whom he backed for president during the 2015 elections, until last Tuesday when he dropped the bombshell. The Oxford speech was not the first time Obasanjo refused to see Buhari as an economic heavyweight. Before now, what he had been doing in criticizing the president’s economic policy was blend such attacks with praises for the president in other areas.

Also, political observers noted that since the former president was no longer a regular visitor at the presidential villa, they were expecting something, which Obasanjo has been lurking in the dark. They said they knew his relationship with Buhari was short-lived and that Obasanjo was just acting true to type.

The thinking is that the former president’s penchant for bringing down any government he moves against has emboldened him to the extent that he has criticised all former presidents. There are those who think Obasanjo sees himself as saint among sinners and therefore dismiss his interventions as self-serving and undeserving.

Obasanjo wanted to amend the constitution to run for a third term in 2007 and since the National Assembly aborted that dream, he has never remained the same since then. After leaving office in 2007, he singlehandedly installed the late Umaru Yar’adua as president.

After some weeks in office, the late president started reversing some of Obasanjo’s policies, which didn’t go down well with the former president. After some months, Yar’Adua fell ill and was flown out of the country. There were calls for the late president to resign due to his Ill health. After gauging the mood of the nation, Obasanjo called on Yar’adua to toe the path of honour and resign.

He said, “If you take up an assignment, a job-elected, appointed whatever it is, and then your health starts to fail and you will not be able to deliver to satisfy yourself and to satisfy the people you are supposed to serve, then there is a path of honour and the path of morality. There is a path of honour and the path of morality and if you don’t do that, then you don’t know anything.”

After Yar’adua had died, Goodluck Jonathan became the president and became the new bride of Obasanjo. He became a regular visitor to the president but after some months, the relationship turned sour. When Obasanjo saw that the pendulum was swinging away from Jonathan, he abandoned him like a hot sack of potatoes. Trust Obasanjo; he came down hard on Jonathan.

Hear him: “I am constrained to make this an open letter to you for a number of reasons. One, the current situation and consequent possible outcome dictate that I should, before the door closes on reason and promotion of national interest, alert you to the danger that may be lurking in the corner.

“Two, none of the four or more letters that I have written to you in the past two years or so, have elicited an acknowledgement nor any response. Three, people close to you, if not yourself, have been asking, what does Obasanjo want? Four, I could sense a semblance between the situation that we are gradually getting into and the situation we fell into as a nation during the Abacha era. Five, everything must be done to guard, protect and defend our fledgling democracy, nourish it and prevent bloodshed”.

Obasanjo’s letter then generated ripples among the polity and rattled Jonathan’s men. Then Buhari became the new darling of Obasanjo who praised him to high heavens at every public engagement in 2014 and 2015.

Now, the same pattern has followed for Buhari. Obasanjo’s frequent visit to the Villa lessened, a development political analysts relied on to predict that very soon Nigerians would hear from Obasanjo and true to type, he delivered on Tuesday.

 

Obasanjo’s Grouse With PMB

Corruption: Obasanjo accused the president of “condoning corruption” within the presidency. According to him, even though Buhari should be given some credit in his fight against insurgency and corruption, such act of condoning “corrupt” practices also amounts to corruption itself.

He said, “There were serious allegations of round-tripping against some inner caucus of the Presidency which would seem to have been condoned. I wonder if such actions do not amount to corruption and financial crime, then what is it?  Culture of condonation and turning blind eye will cover up rather than clean up.  And going to justice must be with clean hands.

“I thought President Buhari would fight corruption and insurgency and he must be given some credit for his achievement so far in these two areas although it is not yet Uhuru!”

 

Inability To Handle The Economy   

Obasanjo’s issues with Buhari also arose from his claim that apart from the fact that the President lacks the knowledge of how the economy works, he has “failed” to employ capable hands in this area. He also said the president had failed to make up for his “weakness” in the workings of the foreign affairs sector.

He stated: “I knew President Buhari before he became president and said that he is weak in the knowledge and understanding of the economy but I thought that he could make use of good Nigerians in that area that could help,” he said.

“I know his weakness in understanding and playing in the foreign affairs sector and again, there are many Nigerians that could be used in that area as well. They have knowledge and experience that could be deployed for the good of Nigeria.”

 

Herdsmen Killings  

Obasanjo further accused Buhari of “wittingly or unwittingly” allowing the clashes between farmers and herdsmen in the country to turn “sour and messy.” He said it is a minus for the federal government that the herdsmen rampage “continues with careless abandon and without finding an effective solution to it.”

The former president berated “blame game” in which the issue has been embroidered.

“The federal government must take the lead in bringing about solution that protects life and properties of herdsmen and crop farmers alike and for them to live amicably in the same community,” he said.

 

Nepotism

Another sin of Buhari, according to Obasanjo, is the “clannishness” that has characterised his administration.

Obasanjo, was apparently referring to Ahmed Abubakar, who is the latest appointee of Buhari. The former presidential aide was named head of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) earlier in the month. The appointment sparked controversies because he is from the north like most heads of security agencies in the current administration

According to Obasanjo, the president has also been unable to bring discipline to bear on “errant members of his nepotic court”.

While noting that it appears “national interest was being sacrificed on the altar of nepotic interest,” the former president listed the case of Abdulrasheed Maina, former pension boss, to fore: “What does one make of a case like that of Maina: collusion, condonation, ineptitude, incompetence, dereliction of responsibility or kinship and friendship on the part of those who should have taken visible and deterrent disciplinary action?

“How many similar cases are buried, ignored or covered up and not yet in the glare of the media and the public?”

 

Dividing Nigeria 

The former president also accused Buhari of having a “poor understanding” of the dynamics of internal politics. He said such “weakness” from the president has cost the nation its unity.

“This (‘poor understanding’ of the dynamics of internal politics) has led to, wittingly or unwittingly, making the nation more divided and inequality has widened and become more pronounced. It also has effect on general national security.”

 

Repeating Jonathan’s Mistake 

The former president accused Buhari of repeating the “mistakes” of Jonathan. According to him, he and other Nigerians voted “brother” Jonathan out because in 2015, it was a matter of “any option but Jonathan”.

He, however, expressed worry that “the situation that made Nigerians to vote massively to get my brother, Jonathan off the horse, is playing itself out again. My letter to President Jonathan titled: ‘Before It Is Too Late’ was meant for him to act before it was too late.  He ignored it and it was too late for him and those who goaded him into ignoring the voice of caution.

 

Blame Game

Obasanjo’s grouse with the president also includes his attitude of “passing the buck.” He cited an instance where the president blamed the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria “for devaluation of the naira by 70 per cent or so and blaming past governments for it.”

While saying that such blame is, “to say the least, not accepting one’s own responsibility,” the former president added that the president was “voted to fix things that were bad and not engage in the blame game.”

“Let nobody deceive us, economy feeds on politics and because our politics is depressing, our economy is even more depressing today. If things were good, President Buhari would not need to come in,” he added.

 

Taking Nigeria Back To 1999 

The graduate of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) further accused Buhari of taking Nigeria back to the situation it was in, in 1999.

He recalled that at the time, “the nation was tottering.  People became hopeless and saw no bright future in the horizon.  It was all a dark cloud politically, economically and socially.  The price of oil at that time was nine dollars per barrel and we had a debt overhang of about $35 billion.”

“Wherever I go, I hear Nigerians complaining, murmuring in anguish and anger,” he said, adding: “But our anger should not be like the anger of the cripple.  We can collectively save ourselves from the position we find ourselves”.

 

Nigerians React 

Reacting to Obasanjo’s letter attacking Buhari, chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Itse Sagay, accused the former president of hypocrisy for asking President Buhari not to seek re-election. Sagay described Obasanjo’s letter as “insulting” and asked him to “learn to respect other people”.

 

He said, “I saw Obasanjo’s comments and I could not believe my eyes, that a man who tried to get a third term is discouraging someone else from getting a second term. It doesn’t make sense.

“I think Obasanjo should try and respect other people. He has achieved a lot. He is a great man and I respect him. But he should learn to respect other people and think of them as being, at least, as good as himself.

“I think it is insulting for a man who wanted third term to tell somebody else not to want second term. It is most inappropriate, and for a former head of state to say so, is most improper.”

On their part, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the foremost northern socio-cultural group, said it is the prerogative of President Buhari to decide on whether or not to re-contest. In a statement issued in Kaduna, ACF however said Obasanjo is entitled to his opinion.

 

“The statement credited to former President Obasanjo that President Buhari should not run in the 2019 election, it is his democratic right to express his view like any other Nigerian on all issues, including democracy,” the statement signed by Muhammad Biu, national publicity secretary of ACF, noted.

“However, it is President Buhari’s prerogative and that of his party to decide on whether to re-contest or not”, the forum added.

On his part, Haruna Abdullahi, a social media commentator based in Abuja said, “It takes a sincere heart to advise a compatriot. Obasanjo’s letter to PMB is a welcome one. Everything he captured in the letter should be a tonic for PMB.

“But advising him not to contest election is not just malicious but playing God. How can you advise a man not contest election when he is a man with manhood like you? Are you his maker or the decider of his fate? Baba, it is your right to advise but you have no right to Buhari’s decision.

“Building a nation is collective bargain, it takes both the elected and the unelected. Obasanjo abused the bond of camaraderie by making such a beautiful template a public material. To what end, you may ask.”

Engr Charles Ayogo, a political commentator said, “On this issue, government needs to study the letter carefully and respond accordingly. They should borrow a leaf from how Goodluck Jonathan responded under similar circumstance in 2014 or so. PMB should not fall into the temptation of attacking the messenger leaving the message, which raised a lot of germane issues that have been agitating the minds of so many Nigerians in the last two years”.

According to him, Obasanjo may not be a perfect leader just as Buhari too, but no one can deny the fact that he has contributed immensely to the entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria and Africa at large. He said there is no living Nigerian leader that commands the kind of respect and clout that he has in the global arena.

“So, his opinions and views on national issues should not be treated with levity. He speaks from a vantage position of authority and access to Intel from his network of friends and loyalists, both in and out of government”.

 



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