In this report, AHURAKA YUSUF ISAH takes a cursory look at the trending letter written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Muhammadu Buhari. He notes that the ex-president had written similar letters to some past Heads of State after him, since he left office both as military Head of State in 1999 and as civilian president in 2007.
Those who are familiar with former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s antecedents won’t be thrown into ecstasy with the “Special Press Statement’’ he issued on Tuesday January 23, 2018 asking President Muhammadu Buhari not to seek second term in office come 2019.
The former president in a 13-page statement entitled, “The Way Out: A Clarion Call for Coalition for Nigeria Movement” said Buhari has performed far below expectation and should honourably “dismount from the horse” to join the league of the country’s former leaders whose “experience, influence, wisdom and outreach can be deployed on the sideline for the good of the country.”
Obasanjo, who was a two-term president on the platform of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), said he felt disappointed by Buhari, whom he supported during the 2015 election over the then incumbent and candidate of his former party, Goodluck Jonathan.
Obasanjo said Buhari should step down at the end of his first term with honour and dignity and attend to his health and should not listen to his “self-serving so-called advisers who would claim that they love him more than God loves him and that without him, there would be no Nigeria say.”
Obasanjo who ruled out the PDP and the ruling APC of possessing the panacea to the malaise that ails the country, therefore called for a movement he termed Coalition of Nigeria, which he offered to be a part of, to wrest power from the present ruling class and lead the country into the path of rebirth.
“We can collectively save ourselves from the position we find ourselves. It will not come through self-pity, fruitless complaint or protest but through constructive and positive engagement and collective action for the good of our nation and ourselves and our children and their children. We need moral re-armament and engaging togetherness of people of like-mind and goodwill to come solidly together to lift Nigeria up. This is no time for trading blames or embarking on futile argument and neither should we accept untenable excuses for non-performance.
In December 2013, Obasanjo wrote a letter to former President Goodluck Jonathan, expressing concern about the direction of the latter’s administration.
In the 18-page letter dated December 2, Obasanjo expressed irritation at the way the Jonathan administration was handling the affairs of the Nigerian state. He spoke of an alleged threat to the unity of Nigeria and complained about the president’s renege on a promise he made in 2011 to spend only one term of four years in office.
He also lambasted the administration over what he described as the increasing cases of corruption in government and alleged that Jonathan was keeping over 1000 people on his political watch list while also secretly training snipers and other armed personnel as well as acquiring weapons ahead of the 2015 general elections.
In November 2014, at a book launch in honour of the pioneer Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Mustapha Akanbi, the former president rated Jonathan’s performance as “below average.” He also said the nation’s economy “is in doldrums, if not reversed.”
The following month, while hosting South-West women in his Abeokuta home, Obasanjo accused Jonathan of squandering $2 billion Excess Crude money left by his administration. He also said his administration left $25 billion to his successor, Umaru Yar’Adua who subsequently raised it to $35 billion. He also said he left $40 billion in Nigeria’s foreign reserves account after paying the nation’s outstanding debt at the time and that Yar’Adua raised it to $60 billion. He, however, regretted that the Jonathan administration depleted the reserves to $40 billion.
From far away Kenya where he had gone to launch his new book, “Under My Watch” Obasanjo reportedly endorsed the APC presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, against Jonathan, who is the candidate of his own party, the PDP.
Although he later clarified the Kenya statement, saying he did not endorse the APC candidate, Mr. Obasanjo launched a fresh attack on Mr. Jonathan at a press briefing on Saturday, which ultimately led to his exit from the PDP on whose platform he ruled the nation between 1999 and 2007.
He had alleged that Jonathan, believed to be his godson, was working towards tenure extension by organizing a controversial election and possibly leave power the same way former Ivorien President, Laurent Gbagbo did.
However, not many have realized that Obasanjo, who governed the country as a military head of state between February 1976 and October 1979, was merely doing what he had penchant for.
Since he left office in 1979, Obasanjo has never failed in fiercely criticizing his successors and predecessors, especially on issues of national unity whenever he had the opportunity. He enjoys doing so, arguably.
On a number of occasions, the former president had fired letters, the type he sent to Jonathan, to the nation’s leaders, warning against destructive trends and events in a country he said he fought hard to unite during the civil war. At other times, he organized lectures and conferences to make his protests known. A common trend that runs across his attacks on his predecessors is that something terrible happened to almost all of the regimes soon after he criticized them. He did so virtually to all the nation’s heads of state or presidents. In fact, the only administrations he never criticized were his.
A few times, he tore at his immediate successor, Shehu Shagari, the nation’s president between 1979 and 1983. His attack on Shagari was quoted in some national dailies in 1983 and few weeks after, Shagari’s government was toppled.
Despite styling itself “the offshoot of the Murtala/Obasanjo regime,” the Buhari/Idiagbon administration came under a barrage of attacks from Obasanjo, who repudiated that honour.
Buhari served in the Murtala/Obasanjo administration (1976-1979) as a military governor of the old Borno State and later petroleum minister. Although, he played a role in stabilizing the Buhari/Idiagbon administration and even nominated ministers to it, including Onaolapo Soyele (Finance Minister), Obasanjo was soon to become uncomfortable with some of the regime’s policies. He sought opportunities to meet Buhari to offer his advice. Perhaps, the administration appeared too deaf to listen to the former head of state, forcing him to go public.
At a lecture he gave to the Agriculture Society in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, in August 1985, Obasanjo criticised the Buhari administration for allegedly running what he called “tilted federalism.” Interestingly, before the lecture, Obasanjo had sent an advanced copy of the lecture to Buhari. That same month, Buhari regime was sacked in a palace coup led by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, the then Chief of Army Staff.
As Buhari himself confessed some years later, “He (Obasanjo) sent an advance copy of the address to me. Indeed, he criticized my administration but I could recall that he visited me several times. In my own case, there was never an attempt to stop him from coming to see me. I expected him really to be coming to discuss with me.
“Before he wrote the address, I sat with him to discuss the issue and I explained to him what he perceived as my administration being rather partisan in a way. I asked him for such incidents and I was given the example of NEPA, where senior officers were retired….
“So, I pointed out that really, there was no question of one section of the country being punished at that time. There was no incident to prove this but as you know General Obasanjo like everybody else had to be susceptible to the pressures of his locality.
“I tried to explain but the General still went ahead to read the address. Of course, by coincidence, I was removed the same month.”
A couple of times, Obasanjo criticized the policies of the Ibrahim Babangida administration which ruled the country between 1985 and 1993. Obasanjo criticized Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Policy (SAP), saying it was devoid of human face, just as he tore Babangida into pieces over the endless transition programme. He said Babangida’s regime was fraud. ‘’it has gotten to time if he says good morning, you need to look out at the sky before answering’’
On several occasions he granted press interviews to both local and international media to express his frustrations. In those interviews, he explained that he made efforts to see Babangida to discuss the issues, but that those efforts were futile. He reportedly wrote letters, but the president never acknowledged any.
When Obasanjo suspected that the military president was reluctant to leave office, he convened a summit on May 25, 1993, at his Ota farm, which was impressively attended.
Among the retired military generals he assembled to discuss the state of the nation were Mr. Buhari; his former deputy, Tunde Idiagbon; former Army Chief of Staff, Theophilus Danjuma; former Chief of General Staff, Ebitu Ukiwe; former External Affairs Commissioner, Joe Garba, and another former Chief of Army Staff, Alani Akinrinade.
From the political class came Olusola Saraki, Adekunle Ajasin, Datti Ahmed, Margaret Ekpo, Lateef Jakande, Mahmud Waziri, Onyemobi Onuoha, Rufus Mohammed, Olu Akinfosile, Abubakar Rimi, and a few others. Proferssors Adebayo Adedeji, Bolanle Awe and David Iornem represented the academia.
In his opening address, Obasanjo expressed concern about the increasing demands for secession and threats to national unity, among other issues.
“You can probably understand any personal anguish as a man who had fought for the unity of Nigeria with men who lost their limbs and lives when I hear people propound the theory of break up,” he said.
“Brothers and sisters, we will not be twice lucky. The world has changed somewhat since 1960s. There are so many forces and interests out there that will successfully militate against Nigeria surviving a second secessionist attempt.”
During the six-hour meeting, the participants at the summit expressed the fear that Babangida would not hand over power because of his winding and prolong transition. They also expressed worry about the inability of the political class to present a common front against the military president. They called for the decentralisation of resource control within a strong and united Nigeria. The meeting also set up a new body known as Association for Democracy and Good Governance in Nigeria (ADGN), to further promote their agenda against the Babangida regime.
Before the summit, Obasanjo had informed Babangida about his plan to host the meeting at the Gateway Hotel, Ota, but curiously the junta made to abort it. Unknown to government, Obasanjo of state secretly provided another venue – his farm.
Four months after the summit, Babangida “stepped aside’’ after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late Chief Moshood Abiola.
The nullification of the election threw the country into turmoil. Obasanjo was involved in the negotiation that installed his kinsman, Ernest Shonekan as head of the Interim National Government (ING), which Babangida hurriedly packaged. He allegedly opposed handing over of state power to Abiola, saying Abiola was not the messiah the nation needed.
The contraption called ING did not last long enough to attract Obasanjo’s criticism. It lasted 82 days between August and November, 1993.
Obasanjo’s attack did not spare the late Gen Sani Abacha’s administration. Quite early in 1994, Obasanjo, at a lecture organised by Arewa House in Kaduna, sternly criticised the Abacha administration, which assumed office in November of the previous year, of lacking in credibility and moral fiber. He also accused the administration of habouring dark design to perpetuate itself in power and blamed Babangida for Abacha’s ascension to power.
“General Babangida is the main architect of the state in which the nation finds itself today and General Sani was his eminent disciple, faithful supporter and beneficiary.”
In a BBC interview he granted shortly after, he accused Abacha’s government of spending like a drunken sailor.
It was not clear if Obasanjo was angered by the upstaging of the ING, which he was involved in floating, or he was truly concerned about the state of the nation. He had launched an international campaign against Abacha, accusing him of lacking in ethics and transparency.
At home, Obasanjo opened discussions with some leaders and began to build bridges, particularly in the Eastern flank of the country.
Abacha was uncomfortable with the development and was worried about Obasanjo’s offensive. The taciturn general decided to tame Obasanjo and other critics, including his (Obasanjo) erstwhile deputy, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. Abacha perceived Yar’Adua’s political activities were undermining his own self-succession agenda. In 1995, they were implicated in a phantom coup plot and jailed.
While Yar’Adua later died in prison, Obasanjo did not regain his freedom until the emergence of General Abdulsalami Abubakar regime which replaced Abacha after the latter’s death in June 1998.
The 11-month administration of General Abdulsalam Abubakar (June 1998-May 1999) freed Obasanjo from Makurdi Prison where he was serving life sentence. He was soon to be drafted into politics by some northern elements led by Babangida whose administration he had fought. Obasanjo won the presidential election.
Abubakar, who allegedly played a prominent role in Obasanjo’s emergence as president never experienced the other side of his successor apparently because he was in prison and also because that administration was short-lived.
A day after leaving office in 2007, Obasanjo was said to have written to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, his successor, in a letter dated May 30, 2007, trying to tutor him on what to do Shortly before Yar’Adua became critically ill and eventually died, Obasanjo was no longer comfortable with him despite playing major role in his (Yar’Adua) emergence as President in 2007. Reason: Yar’Adua had reversed virtually all the policies of his predecessor and was already investigating some aspects of Obasanjo’s regime. Obasanjo’s position as the Chairman, PDP Board of Trustees, which he had awarded himself while leaving power could not help persuade the new president’s from going for his benefactor’s jugular. Indeed it was speculated that Yar’Adua was contemplating arresting Obasanjo over the $5 million Halliburton bribe, his aide, Bodunde Adeyanju allegedly received for him.
Bodunde Adeyanju allegedly received $5 million in three tranches from agents of Albert Stanley, chief executive officer of Kellog Brown and Roots, a subsidiary of Halliburton. Adeyanju confessed in the Federal High Court in Abuja that he collected the money in cash at Transcorp Hilton Hotel Abuja.
In his book, “The Accidental Public Servant,” a former FCT Minister, Nasir el-Rufai claimed that the former president was living in mortal fear that his successor would pick him up someday. Then Yar’Adua illness! Obasanjo worked underground to see the president’s deputy, Goodluck Jonathan succeed the ailing president. He soon saw an opening to go public.
At the 7th Annual Trust Dialogue organised by Media Trust Limited, publishers of Daily Trust, which he chaired, on January 20, 2010, Obasanjo admonished his successor to follow the “path of honour and morality” and resign if he knew he was no longer fit to carry on as President. It did come to many as a shock, however, having helped to install that administration. Five months after, precisely in May.. Yar’Adua died in office.
But a story has it that when Obasanjo visited the late Sultan Abubakar Sadiq III after he conducted and handed over successfully to Alhaji Shehu Shagari on October 1, 1979, he told predicted that Obasanjo would go to jail, come back to head the country. He warned him to be careful thereafter so as not to be sent to jail again.
Following his litany of attacks and concomitant fall of Presidents and military Heads of state, the question is will President Buhari who suffered same attacks while he was a military head of state cave in or go down from Obasanjo’s current attack? Once beaten, they say it’s twice shy, even if he has to go down, won’t he go this time around with Obasajo to save subsequent regimes. Only time shall tell.
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