Former president Olusegun Obasanjo has disclosed why he opposed the re-election of immediate past president, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election.
Mr. Obasanjo’s reasons are contained in a book, Against the Run of Play, written by Mr. Segun Adeniyi, Chairman of the Editorial Board of ThisDay Newspapers.
The book, an account of what happened in the 2015 presidential election, is due for public presentation in Lagos on Friday.
The relationship between the former presidents, noted the author, had soured long before the election. Mr. Jonathan, whose political rise is widely credited to Mr. Obasanjo’s influence, had sought to make up with his presumed benefactor and keep him on his side for re-election. He arranged for a meeting with Mr. Obasanjo in his Abeokuta home.
Before leaving for the Ogun State leg of his campaign in January 2015 wrote the author, Mr. Jonathan had concluded plans to visit Mr. Obasanjo, who had agreed to meet him.
Mr. Obasanjo, however, gave a condition: Jonathan must come along with someone of sufficient credibility to act as a witness at the meeting. Mr. Jonathan agreed to bring one along.
He approached the hugely influential General Overseer (GO) of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor EA Adeboye, who accepted to play the role of a witness.
But on the evening of 12 January 2015, the agreed date of the meeting scheduled for Mr. Obasanjo’s Hilltop residence in Abeokuta, Pastor Adeboye arrived in the company of Bishop David Oyedepo of Winners Chapel.
“It was only Pastor Adeboye that Jonathan told me was coming with him, but Bishop Oyedepo is a man I also know very well, so I had no problem with his presence at the meeting,” Mr. Obasanjo was quoted as saying.
The meeting, stated the author, was an unpleasant one for Mr. Jonathan, a man Mr. Obasanjo had assisted to become Vice President and then President. Mr. Obasanjo frontally told Mr. Jonathan that he was not going to support his re-election bid, saying he considered his performance as president sub-par and that he had acted less than honorably for reneging on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) zoning arrangement, which prescribed that it was the turn of the North to produce the president.
“I told him in the presence of his witness that I was not going to support him for a second-term and I gave my reasons. Aside the issue of zoning on which he was reneging, his stewardship up to that point had also shown very clearly that he was not up to the job,” Obasanjo reportedly said to the author in December 2016.
Mr. Obasanjo, according to the author, claimed to have nothing personal against Mr. Jonathan, explaining that his disagreement with him was based on certain principles on which he was not prepared to compromise.
“My decision was based on what would be for the good of Nigeria and since I didn’t consider Jonathan god enough, I told him to his face. What would I be afraid of?” asked Obasanjo.
The outcome of the meeting was a huge blow to Mr. Jonathan, who was initially billed to be on the ballot in February 2015 before the eventual postponement of the election. Mr. Jonathan, expectedly, left Abeokuta dejected.
The outcome of the meeting was the culmination of years of disdain, initially muted, with which Mr. Obasanjo held the Jonathan presidency. Signs of his irritation first manifested on 3 April 2012, when he resigned his position as chairman of PDP Board of Trustees.
Two months later, he delivered a wounding assessment of the Jonathan’s administration’s capacity to confront corruption.
On 15 June 2012, at a debate organized by the club De Madrid (an independent, non-profit organization comprising 80 former democratic presidents and prime ministers from fifty-six countries) in Geneva, Switzerland, Mr. Obasanjo laid into the Jonathan administration with full force.
“I haven’t seen that will of persistency and consistency in Nigeria because the people that are involved in corruption, they are strongly entrenched and unless you are ready to confront them at the point of even giving your life for it, then you will give in, that is the end of it,” he told BBC
Ritula Shah, moderator of the debate. Clever sniping by an accomplished verbal sniper. From then on, Mr. Jonathan was a sitting duck.
A year later, Mr. Obasanjo abandoned sniping for an all-out shootout. His first major target was the oil pipelines protection initiative of the Jonathan administration.
“This morning, on my way from Abeokuta by road, I was listening to the radio. I heard that the Jonathan administration said that they are going to set up an agency for pipeline protection. Now, what are the police there for? What are all the security agencies doing? This is another chop-chop,” Mr. Obasanjo said in Abuja during a thanksgiving ceremony to mark the 50th birthday of Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education.
He sustained his attack with details of how he thought the Jonathan administration was not interested in accountability, noting that its handling of the Boko Haram insurgency indicated that if allowed to continue in power, Mr. Jonathan could fatally damage the country. “Jonathan and his people turned Boko Haram into an industry for making money. Rather than seek for solution, Boko Haram became an ATM machine for taking money out of the treasury. Take the issue of the Chibok tragedy. If he had acted within the first 48 hours, they would have found most of the girls. The CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) Chairman of the local chapter in Chibok was here to see me and he explained how they were helpless with no reaction from the authorities for several days,” the book quoted Mr. Obasanjo as saying.
The author noted that Mr. Obasanjo had advised early in the life of the Jonathan administration that Jonathan, as president, needed to pay more attention to the Boko Haram insurgency, a counsel that was ignored.
In November 2012, the author stated, at a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary on the pulpit of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the then CAN President, Obasanjo suggested that the Jonathan administration was mishandling the challenge posed by the insurgency.
“My fear is that when you have a sore and you don’t attend to it early enough, it festers and becomes very bad. Don’t leave a problem that can be bad unattended…if you say you don’t want a strong leader who can have all the characteristic of a leader, including the fear of God, then you have a weak leader and the rest of the problems is yours,” he said at the occasion.
Mr. Obasanjo also accused Mr. Jonathan of clannishness and promotion of a form of Ijaw triumphalism, which he described as “sickening”.
“I once asked him: ‘What is this Ijaw thing all about? Can the Ijaw people make you president?’ I remember when he granted pardon to Alamieyeseigha (Diepriye, the former governor of Bayelsa State convicted for corruption) and it became an international embarrassment. I also asked him: ‘Why did you do it?’ He started by offering a lame excuse that it was a Council of State decision before I reminded him that Council of State was merely advisory and that the decision was his. After a while, he said if I was at the meeting, he probably would have acted differently because nobody opposed him on what he could do to address the problem. But it was either because he didn’t have the courage to broach the issue with Alamieyeseigha or he didn’t think it was important. he did nothing afterward,” Adeniyi reported Obasanjo as saying.
The author also noted that the public conduct of some Ijaw men such as ex-militant, Mujahid Dakubo-Asari, and a former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark damaged the image of Jonathan and that of his administration.
Mr. Adeniyi observed that the fact that Mr. Jonathan did not restrain them created the impression that he supported what they were saying and doing. For instance, in May 2013, recalls Adeniyi, Dakubo-Asari said Niger Delta militants would throw the country into chaos if Mr. Jonathan was not re-elected in 2015. Again, on September 9th, 2013, he declared that Jonathan’s presidential ambition in 2015 was already settled.
“The way things are going, there is no sitting on the fence in the battle before us… All of us will have to be in the ring and fight. 2015 is already a settled matter. Goodluck Jonathan would be president in 2015,” Dakubo-Asari declared.
A few days later, Chief Clark did the same, saying Jonathan would remain President in 2015 because it was not yet the turn of the North.
“In the Constitution of Nigeria, every president has two elections to be contested. (Alhaji Shehu) Shagari did it in1979 and 1983. In 1999, (Chief Olusegun) Obasanjo did it and 2003. In 2007, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of blessed memory did it and if he had remained alive, he would have done it again in 2011. So, Jonathan has the right to contest again. This is an incumbent that has not done a second-term. It is not yet the turn of northerners. They have the right to contest as Nigerians. Yes, but in other parties,” said Chief Clark.
At the same occasion, the late Alamieyeseigha bragged: “Aso Rock is not vacant. The northern agitators will all, at the appropriate time, join the moving train. They may have their opinion, but I can assure you that President |Jonathan will remain as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria come 2015.”
The author equally observed that Mr. Obasanjo, was, on many occasions, the target of attacks by prominent Ijaw leaders and groups. This, states the author, was one of the reasons for his famous open letter to President Jonathan in December 2013. Titled, “Before it is too late,” Mr. Obasanjo’s letter accused Mr. Jonathan of pursuing selfish interest by destroying his own party, polarizing the country along regional and religious lines and ridiculing Nigerians globally. “For you to allow yourself to be ‘possessed’, so to say, to the exclusion of most of the rest of Nigerians as an Ijaw man is a mistake that should never have been allowed to happen. To allow or tacitly encourage people of Ijaw to throw insults on other Nigerians from other parts of the country and threaten fire and brimstone to protect your interest as an Ijaw man is myopic and that you are not openly quieting them is even more unfortunate,” wrote Mr. Obasanjo.
Obasanjo’s criticisms of Mr. Jonathan were a boon to the opposition, whose disparate bits were in the process of coalescing into the All Progressives Congress (APC) to be reinforced by the defection of some PDP governors.
Cleverly painting Mr. Jonathan as dishonorable, Mr. Obasanjo said Mr. Jonathan told him before the 2011 election that he would serve for a single term and made the same promise to governors, party stakeholders, and Nigerians.
“As a leader, two things you must cherish and hold dear, among others, are trust and honor, both of which are important ingredients of character. I will want to see anyone in the office of the presidency of Nigeria as a man and woman who can be trusted, a person of honor in worth and character,” Mr. Obasanjo stated.
He referred to the “gentleman agreement” of a single term brokered in 2011. “Up till two months ago, Mr. President, you told me that you have not told anybody that you would contest in 2015. I quickly pointed out to you that the signs and measures on the ground do not tally with your statement. You said the same to one other person, who shared his observations with me. And only a fool will believe that statement you made to me judging by what is going on. I must say it is not ingenious. You may wish to pursue more credible and honorable path,” Mr. Obasanjo added.
Mr. Jonathan responded in kind and his battle axes in the media went for Mr. Obasanjo, an indication that a full-blown war had been declared. An expert at milking situations, Mr. Obasanjo did not allow his former protégé any respite. Speaking at the Ake Arts and Books Festival in Abeokuta, he delivered a dim verdict on Mr. Jonathan when asked to rate his administration.
“I rate this current administration below average. When the head is rotten, the whole body is useless,” he said woundingly.
In what seemed an attempt to deflect the accusation that he yoked the country with the Jonathan presidency, the author quotes Mr. Obasanjo as saying Mr. Jonathan was not his first choice as running mate to the late Yar’Adua.
“It was Dr. Peter Odili. But whether by fate or by some conspiracy, Odili had hurdles that made it impossible for him to take the position. That was how I settled for Jonathan,” the former president is quoted as saying.
While admitting not knowing Yar’Adua and Jonathan well enough, he stated that you can only accurately gauge people’s capacities when they are given power and responsibility.
Obasanjo also rejected the notion that he knew that Yar’Adua was terminally ill before anointing him his successor.
“One, the lingering doubts about his health, while the other was a very pervasive allegation that he had a manipulative wife, who had too much influence on him,” the book quoted him as saying.
Mr. Obasanjo, however, said the accusation against Yar’Adua’s wife was out of jealousy, as she was close to the husband. On Yar’Adua’s health, Obasanjo told the author: “Not being a medical practitioner, I gave the report to a friend and a renowned professional in the medical field, who reviewed it, and told me the person in the report that he was not on dialysis, by which he meant either he didn’t have kidney problem or that he has successfully undergone a kidney transplant. That was the report I had about his health.”
Explaining why he endorsed Jonathan for the 2011 presidential ticket, following Yar’Adua’s demise, Mr. Obasanjo said: “I saw the emergence of Jonathan an opportunity to solve the problem of minority agitation. The three majority ethnic groups in Nigeria can always sort themselves out but not so for the minority. A good example is my state here in Ogun. Despite the best intentions, nobody from Ogun west has been able to become governor because of this minority issue and it will take a conscious effort to make it happen. So, it was in that context that I had to plead with prominent people in the north to allow Jonathan run for a term.”
Signs that Mr. Jonathan was not going to be a successful president, according to Mr. Obasanjo, manifested in certain actions the man took early in the life of his administration. One of such, he said, was the appointment of Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke as Minister of Petroleum Resources, an action he said he warned against and for which he received assurances was not going to be taken.
“He (Jonathan) gave me the impression that he was not going to give her the portfolio. At the end, he did and then we can see the consequences. He, of course, knew what he was doing,” he told the author.
Mr. Obasanjo’s rift with his protégé oiled the opposition machine operated by Mr. Muhammadu Buhari, behind whom many disaffected politicians, including from the PDP, were queuing. He, however, denied supporting Mr. Buhari.
“I didn’t join them in supporting Buhari, I joined in opposing Jonathan, so Buhari was just a beneficiary of my opposition to Jonathan since my position was AOBJ: Any Option But Jonathan,” he told the author.
He explained that Mr. Jonathan and his supporters thought they could buy the country. “They were so arrogant about it that the PDP will print only one nomination form for him and him alone. If he was wise, he would have yielded the ticket to somebody else in the PDP,” he stated.
The former president also depicted Mr. Jonathan as corrupt and lacking the capacity to deal with Boko Haram in his three-part book, My Watch.
This, observed the author, was hugely damaging to Mr. Jonathan’s profile and persuaded the US and Britain to lean towards Mr. Buhari, whom they believed was strong on those key issues. Ever the man to time his attacks well, Mr. Obasanjo, in January 2015, just a few weeks to the initial date of the election, accused Mr. Jonathan of squandering $25 billion crude oil savings left behind by his administration.
The crippling allegation was made when he hosted southwest women leaders at his residence in Abeokuta. “Our reserve after we had paid off the debt was about $45 billion. As I said, it continued till the end of 2007, I heard that the reserve increased to almost $67 billion before the end of the year. Our reserve now, I learned, is left with around $30 billion. That is why the naira has been falling against the dollar,” he said.
While he mentioned no name, he left his audience in no doubt the target of his barbs.
“In the profession, I know very well, the military, what we normally say is that there are no bad soldiers, but bad officers. If you see a situation where the soldiers are not doing very well, you need to examine the officers in charge. So, it is in the family, the community, the town and the country,” Obasanjo stated.
He followed it up with an advice to Nigerians to use their votes judiciously during the general elections. Mr. Jonathan created some breathing space for himself when, two days after the scalding from Mr. Obasanjo, his government rescheduled the elections by six weeks.
But again, Mr. Obasanjo stepped up his attack, accusing Mr. Jonathan of copying former Cote d’Ivoire president, Laurent Gbagbo, who kept postponing election so he could manipulate the process.
“It looks to me that the President is trying to play ‘Gbagbo’. I believe this is the sort of thing Nigeria may fall into if I am right in what I observed as the grand plan. We all remember that in the run-off Gbagbo lost with 8 percent behind Ouattara and then refused to handover. All reasonable persuasion and pleading was rebuffed by him and unleashed horror in that country until nemesis caught up with him,” Obasanjo said in London.
He equally expressed a dim view of the role of the military and security chiefs in rescheduling the elections.
“I believe the President’s concern or fear is not about life out of office per se, but he and I have had occasions to talk about this, both seriously and jovially. I believe the President’s fear is particularly motivated by the person he sees as his likely successor, that is General Buhari. I believe people must have been telling him that Buhari is a hard man and he will fight corruption and he (Jonathan) will end up in jail if not in the grave,” added Mr. Obasanjo.
The attack, unsurprisingly, got the Jonathan camp red-eyed. Spokesperson of the Jonathan Campaign Organisation, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, accused Mr. Obasanjo of desperately wanting to see Mr. Jonathan defeated.
“He has raised issues and made assertions that are capable of derailing our democracy and creating chaos in the land. It is vital that we consider his motives for this latest outburst and his credentials as a leader and an elder statesman. The truth is that he knows that President Jonathan will win the next month’s presidential election and that it why he wants to destroy the credibility of the whole process right from the beginning,” said Fani-Kayode.
Ultimately, observed the author, Mr. Obasanjo’s opposition to Jonathan’s re-election emboldened the opposition and suggested to many others that an incumbent could be defeated. He equally argued that Obasanjo helped to weaken Mr. Jonathan both within the PDP and in the general population of the country and convinced the US and Britain that the second term for Mr. Jonathan would be disastrous for Nigeria.
Also, Mr. Adeniyi reckoned that with Mr. Obasanjo’s weighty voice not being lent to Mr. Jonathan’s candidacy, big businesses, which are always backing the incumbent with billions of naira to the exclusion of the opposition, felt confident to support his opponent, Mr. Buhari.
“What this ensured was that for the first time in four attempts at the presidency, Buhari had enormous resources to campaign across the country in leased aircraft to an image makeover, hire entertainers for rallies, embarked on an expensive blitz and give a Jonathan a good run for his money. In the end, that went a long way in helping to tilt the scale in his favor,” wrote Adeniyi.