The import of the tirades against Olusegun Obasanjo on social media since President Muhammadu Buhari launched his vengeful assault on the former President has largely been the expression of accustomed hate, schadenfreude, and the childish serves-him-right fascination. Outside the social media, traditional die-hard Obasanjo-haters like Professor Wole Soyinka and Femi Falana have been having a field day of feasting on their favorite object of pastime denigration. In one of the most unobjective, hate-filled and clearly envy-driven tirades, Femi Falana even strayed shamefully, into the murky waters of suggesting a government seizure of Olusegun Obasanjo’s landmark Presidential Library. An edifice that does not represent personal enrichment but does Nigeria proud, promotes education and serves as one indispensable official archive of Nigeria’s history and everything Nigeria may stand for in generations to come! Indeed, such unequivocally nonsensical show of deep-seated abhorrence devoid of any appreciative sense of goodwill will rather be ignored for what it truly is.
Retaliating the former President’s rejection of his Presidency and apparently, effective drive to unseat him and deny him a second term in office, President Muhammadu Buhari has taken to tapping into these hate-filled, populist sentiments to resist and perhaps, fight back in very surprising desperation. That is the very first jitter that has triggered this fully unwarranted feud in a roller-coaster relationship.
I remember vividly, one summer evening in the comfort of my summer residence in Turkey in 2015 in the wake of President Buhari’s victory over President Goodluck Jonathan in the polls. I had this call from President Obasanjo’s Personal Assistant, who gave me the rare privilege of talking to the former President on the telephone on that calm evening. I remember President Obasanjo’s pleasure and excitement over Muhammadu Buhari’s triumph and his reassuring words: “My son, we can’t afford to fail this time. We will get it right!” These, in my opinion, are the words of a patriotic legend, whose personal interest far transcend the celebration of the victory or defeat of any individual and was focused more on fixing the country. In fact, in a statement released by the then, presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, in March 2015 on occasion of the former President’s birthday celebration, Muhammadu Buhari had these words for Olusegun Obasanjo:
“Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is a courageous patriot and statesman who tells the truth to power when he is convinced leaders are going wrong … he is a nationalist, whose commitment to democracy and good governance are worthy of recognition and praise … Obasanjo is a true statesman and nationalist who doesn’t abandon his country when it needs his voice to jolt the conscience of leaders to listen to those they govern.”
Again, these are authentic and deeply-felt words of honest appreciation against the backdrop of the tragic direction that the Nigerian state was heading under former President Goodluck Jonathan. The reality though, was that President Goodluck Jonathan at that time did not agree and would never have agreed with Muhammadu Buhari that Olusegun Obasanjo’s public efforts to unseat him from the Presidency had anything statesman-like or patriotic in them. He was at the receiving end. So, just what does President Buhari think he is doing here and now?
Where did this relationship go sour? Judging by the open letter written by the former President, it is glaring that he has his grudges in clearly defined areas and he minced no word highlighting them. Agree or disagree with him, he blamed the incumbent President for his performance on the economy and his constant apportionment of the blame on others and not taking responsibility for failures where necessary. He buttressed his point with one clear example amongst others, of the President blaming the Governor of the Central Bank for the 70% devaluation of the Naira. He criticized the President’s lack of flair and instinct for the handling of subtleties in the dynamics of politics. Indeed, many pundits have had cause to voice out criticisms in these same areas on several occasions too. A President, who refuses to dialog with his citizens, seemingly snubbing them and simply ignoring matters of crucial significance can only end up having the country deeply divided. Many will disagree with President Obasanjo on these two issues in view of the enormity of the economic problems that Buhari inherited and the progress he undeniably, made on several fronts of the economy. From my own layman perception though, I will not discount chances that President Buhari may have made significant errors of judgment and implementation at crucial moments, on the economy. Yet, I do need stronger arguments to convince me that President Buhari has failed woefully on the economy. Many will also disagree with President Obasanjo that the deep polarization in the country today, is attributable solely, to President Buhari’s lack of the requisite political finesse. After all, the nation was deeply polarized in the days of President Obasanjo as well.
On another point, though, the former President wrote about an area in which:
“President Buhari has come out more glaringly than most of us thought we knew about him. One is nepotic deployment bordering on clannishness and inability to bring discipline to bear on errant members of his nepotic court. This has grave consequences on the performance of his government to the detriment of the nation.”
It is on this point that President Obasanjo, in my opinion, has clearly hit the bull’s eye. He cited the example of Maina and talked about “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”. He then asked how many more cases may have been concealed or remained unseen by the public eye.
Now, looking back at the year 2007 in the heat of presidential campaigns to succeed Olusegun Obasanjo as President, candidate Muhammadu Buhari did not hide his disdain for President Olusegun Obasanjo. In different ways, he insinuated that he would subject Olusegun Obasanjo to one persecution or the other. It was at a point, in which the polity had been badly overheated, and the nation was deeply polarized.
Part of the problem at the time that badly angered the northern establishment was Obasanjo’s radical break from the normative political order that several northern-led military governments had established through several years of dominance. Key government offices were reserved solely for Northerners. The Governor of the Central Bank, the Inspector-General of Police, Chief of Army Staff, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Minister of Finance, Minister of Defense, Minister of External Affairs to name but a few, were posts that were often reserved exclusively for Northerners.
As the first leader of its kind, Olusegun Obasanjo displayed color-blindness as far as ethnic coloration was concerned, when it came to making appointments to government posts. Olusegun Obasanjo reorganized the military in a manner that ensured the less frequency of coups and equal opportunities for all irrespective of tribe and geographical origin. Many Northerners, who commented on this issue at the time, considered this a frontal attack on the North. As I elaborated in my book “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism”, one serious consequence of this perception, was the unilateral declaration of Sharia Law in individual northern States to undermine the constitutional laws that defined the legal system of the country as well as to dare the incumbent President of the time to take any action to restore constitutional order. So, when candidate Muhammadu Buhari made it clear that he would hold Olusegun Obasanjo accountable for whatever vices he had in mind if he became President, it wasn’t difficult to figure out, where the grudges were coming from. Yet, he won a lot of applause from his target audience across the board because Olusegun Obasanjo had a multitude of media-influenced enemies and the media were driven by the individual political interest groups that owned and controlled them. It made the 2007 presidential election a do-or-die affair for the incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo, who had to fight for his own political and personal survival.
Fast-forward to 2015. All these animosities died in the wake of President Goodluck Jonathan’s extremely clannish and corrupt approach to Governance. Very much as it is with President Buhari, there is no doubt that Olusegun Obasanjo had his moment or moments of disagreement with President Goodluck Jonathan as well, which made him part ways from his political foster son. At the time, this parting of ways meant courageous statesmanship and patriotism to candidate Muhammadu Buhari. After all, he was the beneficiary. Olusegun Obasanjo committed to him as a candidate and campaigned relentlessly to secure international endorsement for the removal of Goodluck Jonathan’s threatening disintegration of the Union.
Now, upon proclamation by Olusegun Obasanjo, of his parting of ways with President Muhammadu Buhari, the initial reaction by President Buhari was measured and respectful, probably hoping to dissuade from a further deepening of the rift and to nip the crisis in the bud. He had clearly instructed his aides to desist from disparaging the former President because they would be too young to disparage an elder in the spirit of African courtesy. Aside the factual and impersonal response provided by the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, the President’s bar on disparaging comments does not seem to have applied to Festus Keyamo, who he had recently appointed as his campaign and not necessarily, government or personal spokesman.
As soon as President Obasanjo started acting out his script of working against the reelection of the incumbent President, making consultations and forming alliances as he did in the days that nourished the candidacy of the incumbent President against Goodluck Jonathan, President Buhari suddenly remembered that $16 bn had been wasted on electricity that was not provided in the wake of the year 2007. Never mind that the figures were not quite accurate and never mind that the President was also personally aware of the controversy surrounding the accuracy of the figures. Never mind too that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had officially investigated the issue exhaustively over the years, with conclusive reports – fair or foul! It became the most urgent issue on the front burner.
There are yet no charges prepared or filed against Diezani Allison-Madueke to be taken up whenever she returns. No. No investigation is deemed urgent on the reason for the depletion of the country’s foreign reserves while earnings were high. No. Instead, another lie is advanced that the price of crude oil between 1999 and 2007 averaged $100.00 per barrel. No probe is being ordered on why fuel subsidy blew out of proportion and why many surrogates and cronies were allowed to get away with false subsidy declarations without prosecution. The urgency of prosecuting such looters publicly has not been highlighted. The stupendous looting of the country’s resources in the immediate past administration is not a subject of any urgent public scrutiny. No. It is the power sector spending under President Olusegun Obasanjo, who, coincidentally, is championing the cause of stopping the reelection of the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari that is now on the front burner.
Then from nowhere, President Buhari discovered the sanctity of the June 12 movement and its democratic significance for Nigeria and the ecclesiastic infallibility of General Sani Abacha.
Now, while I have no judgmental input whatsoever, into the injustices of June 12 and the atrocities related to it, I have opined in one article several years ago that I, personally, shed no tears for Moshood Abiola, irrespective of the attacks and abuses this will generate. The man Moshood Abiola played a crucial role in the unfair demise and dismantling of Obafemi Awolowo in the early days of the Second Republic to advance his own political ambitions. In the battle of the Nigerian Concord against the Nigerian Tribune, the most brutal form of political propaganda journalism was put on display in the hope that Moshood Abiola would be nominated the presidential candidate of the ruling National Party of Nigeria at the time when the tenure of President Shehu Shagari was expected to end. A move that would have guaranteed him electoral success while the more brilliant and popularly adored brain would have wasted away and fallen prey to the power of some ITT-financed monetary prowess. Alas, when the time came, the party constitution was manipulated and amended and Moshood Abiola was shown his rightful place in an era that saw ethnic and regional politicking at its highest peak. It was the first warning shot that he failed to heed.
As a practicing Moslem, Moshood Abiola had always considered himself a brother to the North and was highly connected with the political powers of the time since the North dominated political leadership and Abiola cherished hanging out with such political leaders and sponsoring them for favors. Unfortunately, there was no indication that the Northern leaders were ready to reciprocate his heavily money-guided overtures in any way. In the end, he suffered the inevitable fate of dining with the devil too closely in the hope of a cheaper path to fame and power and Obafemi Awolowo would have turned in his grave and cracked his ribs laughing. That much for my unfavorable personal opinion.
Now, if the conduct of the historic June 12 elections was the freest and fairest Nigeria has ever had and the activists involved were unjustly persecuted and victimized, no doubt honor must be given where and when it is due. But why didn’t it occur to President Muhammadu Buhari to shower these accolades on the recipients in 2015 (shortly after his inauguration), in 2016 or in 2017? Why did President Buhari have to wait till his feud with Olusegun Obasanjo to suddenly remember that there are people to honor, who posterity may have been unfair to? This is where a dose of childishness may serve to neutralize the goodwill of men. It is highly reminiscent of President Jonathan’s act in promoting the election of Governor Ayodele Fayose to spite Olusegun Obasanjo in the heat of his hopeless bid for reelection. History repeating itself in different cycles in the gaze of those, who choose to react with hate emotions and spitefulness.
Even though President Olusegun Obasanjo now seems to have betrayed the second jitter of a General by ringing the alarm bell on attempts to incarcerate him, I will encourage President Muhammadu Buhari to truly go ahead with such plans if indeed, he has them in mind. The making of a legend will be realized not too long after the fading of the music. In spite of all hatred and abuses that President Buhari is willingly and knowingly tapping into, Olusegun Obasanjo’s place in Nigeria’s history has long been defined and cemented. The social media rascals – professionals and novices – who believe in the power of blind submission giving the incumbent President the feeling of heroism in setting the wrong agenda out of obvious desperation, may not be the determinant factor in reelection.
Then, the President comes out to declare that he had allowed the Governor of the Central Bank – a Jonathan appointee – to remain on his post because he, basically, wanted the Governor to correct the mess he had created in the economy. An unforced error of this sort often prompts one to wonder, if our Presidents are never guided by capable advisers. With a statement of this nature, the President is clearly dropping the hint that he had no blueprint of his own to salvage the ruinous economy left by President Jonathan in the wake of grand larceny. President Buhari’s belief in reviving the economy through reverse engineering that he expected Emefiele to perform is the most potent declaration of his own bankruptcy of ideas. He could as well have allowed President Jonathan to stay on to correct the mess he created and this is without prejudice to the continued stay of Emefiele as Governor of the Central Bank.
In the end, opportunism and desperation are the last attributes anyone would have expected of General Muhammadu Buhari, in whom we all saw the Messiah and Revolutionary. No doubt, General Olusegun Obasanjo deserves to be punished, jailed and disgraced if, indeed, corruption and massive wrongdoings are proven against him. But please do not sell opportunism and desperation to the world as a fight against corruption and the final touching of the Untouchables.
Knowing the criticisms directed at him by Olusegun Obasanjo, it would have been incumbent upon President Muhammadu Buhari to seek immediate dialog with the former President to defuse further tension particularly after the coincidental meeting in Addis Abeba shortly after the open letter was written. That would have been the only logical move to make while acting in good faith. The goal would have been, to carry the former President along by explaining details to him if there were issues, which in the view of the administration, he had not properly understood. Whether any such move was made or not, we do not know from the outside. The current turn of events, however, indicate that such moves were either never made or ended up in failure.
Whichever way it is, the growing bellicosity and grandstanding tapping into negative sentiments to intimidate or silent Olusegun Obasanjo will only end up overheating the polity in the most unnecessary manner since Olusegun Obasanjo will continue to defy all odds at an age, in which he has virtually, nothing more to lose. By taking this barrage of vengeful counter-measures, President Muhammadu Buhari is doing nothing else, but making his reelection battle his own personal “Do-or-die” moment.
Frisky Larr is the author of “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism”, “Africa’s Diabolical Entrapment” and “Lost in Democracy”. Watch out for the upcoming book “A Journey Through Times”