Again, I make former president Olusegun Obasanjo my business this week. I start by congratulating him on his emergence as the new chair of the Council of World ex-Presidents and for being the first among his equals in the African Continent to be so honoured. He takes over from Franz Vranitzky, former chancellor of Austria.
Preceding Obasanjo in this illustrious position are: Helmut Schmidt of Germany, Malcolm Fraser of Australia, Jean Chretien of Canada and Franz Vranitzky of Austria. The appointment eloquently testifies to the respect Obasanjo commands in the global community and reinforces the fact that he is a man of consequence in the local space.
Obasanjo has attained self-actualisation in good measure, having twice mounted the commanding height of Nigeria’s power loop-three years as military head of state and eight years as democratically elected president. In scholarship, he has also hit the acme with a doctorate in philosophy. This, he did this year as an octogenarian. He has also excelled as a man of letters. With about 23 books under his belt including collectors’ items such as “Nzeogwu,” “Not My Will” and “This Animal Called Man,” Obasanjo’s place is assured in history as a story teller.
In the literal sense, he is also a “man of letters,” or perhaps of toxic letters. The annals of Obasanjo’s angry letters reaches back to 1986 when he hit the late British prime minister, Magaret Thatcher with one. The issue was apartheid rule in South Africa and Thatcher’s disagreeable position against imposition of sanctions on the white minority government.
Several lines from Obasanjo’s letter, then as member of Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group (EPG), that was negotiating Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, were body blows on Thatcher. “I must tell you that many people around the world view your continued opposition to sanctions as founded on instinct, not logic and as displaying a misguided tribal loyalty and myopic political vision.
The consequences of such perceptions are far-reaching for a country which has traditionally claimed the high ground of principle…those who seek to minimise sanctions and their effect will have the blood of thousands, if not millions, of innocents on their hands and on their consciences. My heart will be heavy but my hands will be clean. Will yours?”
In 2013, former president Goodluck Jonathan got his own measure titled: “Before It Is Too Late: A Letter of Appeal to a Deceitful, Lying and Destructive President Jonathan.” This year, it was President Muhammadu Buhari’s turn, with a treatise titled: “The Way Out: A Clarion Call for Coalition for Nigeria Movement.” Not done with Buhari, he had threatened to do a sequel.
We should also note that whenever Obasanjo chooses not to write, he unloads verbal attack. Former President Shehu Shagari, whom he handed power to in 1979, did not get a letter but a regular and liberal dose of bile for the things that riled Obasanjo as leadership failures and poor outcomes from the Second Republic government.
General Babangida shared same fate with Shagari for his Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and the pains and penury the austerity measures actually birthed.
Abrasive as General Sani Abacha was, he also got Obasanjo’s vitriol. While delivering a keynote address at an event in Arewa House, Kaduna, Obasanjo described Abacha’s government as one that was bereft of vision. In a following interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) he came down harder, accusing Abacha of maniacal corruption and running a kleptocracy.
Obasanjo, has a mortal dread for being out of the spotlight. I don’t know if it is a phobia. For this, he charged into the race to be United Nation’s secretary-general in 1991, which some Nigerians rallied to shoot down and in 2007, wanted a third term as Nigerian president.
I welcome CNM for nothing other than nuisance value, because this amorphous and shadowy group cannot deliver the goods. Obasanjo needs all the relevance he can curry, but I doubt if he ought to have thrown himself into the mix of the formless CNM, let alone lead it.
I concede that the mission of the movement, as he disclosed in his January letter to President Buhari, sounded fresh and likely as something we need to get good outcomes from the government, but I have been patient to see the assemblage of the special tribe of Nigerians that would bring this to pass, especially as Obasanjo suggested that they would be non-partisan but concerned, altruistic Nigerians.
It is not just enough to urge this nebulous group to get ready to sack President Buhari by next year, the clarity of the methods and tactics for walking the talk matters to me because if it is not necessarily going to be a political party, I will want to know if we are about to get our own kind of Tea Party Movement or Black Power Movement in the US or the current Gerakan Harapan Baru in Malaysia.
On February 1, in Abeokuta, he inaugurated what was palmed off as the expected coalition. Though I was not impressed, but for whatever the coalition is worth, I had expected it to get cracking with messages, narratives or some kind of town hall meetings, but what unravelled was Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Obasanjo’s sidekicks that I am in no hurry to learn from.
It also emerged few weeks ago that Obasanjo’s CNM may just as well be a rallying ground for Nigerian fringe parties. Nothing gave a more vivid expression to this than the roll call of parties in the movement’s last Lagos meeting. It included the SDP, Labour Party, Alliance for Democracy, Democratic People’s Congress, Action Alliance, Progressives People’s Alliance, Democratic Alternative, National Conscience Party (NCP) and the All Grand Alliance Party (AGAP)
Barring perhaps those of the late Gani Fawehinmi’s NCP, one can safely say that the politicians of the rest are six of one, half dozen of the other.
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