By Ethelbert Okere
Last January, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo wrote his famous letter to President Muhammadu Buhari in which he, among other things, asked the latter not to seek re-election. The move was received by a majority of Nigerians with a lot of enthusiasm. Even those who are not usually enamoured by the ex president’s political narcissism conceded that he made sense, regardless that the message was coming from the wrong messenger. Still, there were some who saw with neither the message nor the messenger.
Overall, the attitude of Nigerians to Obasanjo’s missive was informed by the fact that, entirely on their own, the citizens had been nursing grievances against President Buhari and his administration. Nigerians expressed their disaffection with the administration openly – in market places, beer parlours and even in worship places – but it didn’t get to the right places(s). So, when President Obasanjo wrote his letter, they were happy because they felt that their murmuring may eventually reach the right ears.
Besides, Nigerians also came to believe that because of the preeminent position of Obasanjo, he had done his home work thoroughly and that it was only a matter of time before his “third force”, which he so much talked about in his letter, would unveil a concrete plan of action for the ouster of the poorly-performing President Buhari. But more than seven months on, that expectation by Nigerians from Chief Obasanjo seems to have been eroded. As a matter of fact, it was just in a matter of weeks that Nigerians discovered that all they had heard and seen was the usual polemics for which the former president is known.
As it is today, perhaps only just a few Nigerians still believe that beyond mere jibes at President Buhari, Chief Obasanjo can provide the needed leadership to prevent the former from getting re-elected next year. Thus, regardless of the fact that the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), naturally keyed into Chief Obasanjo’s propositions on Buhari and has been trying to woo him on its side, there is a general skepticism over this romance. Not a few believe that it is a romance that will take the PDP to nowhere, and that, in fact, the latter will become even more confused as the days go by if it decides to rely entirely on Chief Obasanjo’s fabled wisdom.
Of course, there are those who remind the skeptics that President Goodluck Jonathan failed in getting re-elected because Chief Obasanjo dumped him and worked for Buhari instead. But nothing can be further from the truth. Regardless of the general disenchantment with the Buhari administration, today, it is a big fallacy to ascribe the victory of candidate Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), in 2015 to Obasanjo. The correct thing to say is that the former president, given his preeminent position, knew, like many other Nigerians, that Jonathan’s re-election was a tall order. It did not need rocket science to prove that; in a situation where in the North, for example, nearly everybody, from the Almajiri to the University Vice Chancellor, was insisting on presidential power returning to that region. Even elements from that region who are today opposed to Buhari’s re-election, all worked hard to ensure that he won in 2015. Was it Obasanjo who caused the people of Kano and Bauchi states, to mention but a few, to give those massive votes to Buhari as recorded?
Today, President Obasanjo has taken the same advantage – of his prominence – to merely re-echo what the voiceless majority of Nigerians were saying about the Buhari administration. Put in a different language, while it would be totally wrong to disregard the Obasanjo factor in the calculations of who ascends presidential power in Nigeria currently, Nigerians are beginning to get worried that his fabled wisdom and sagacity may have become tainted by his fixations over issues and some fellow Nigerians to the extent that relying solely on his interpretation of the political situation in the country poses a big danger to their collective dream.
For example, contrary to the expectations of a section of Nigerians – especially following Chief Obasanjo’s January 2018 letter earlier referred to – that he will provide a robust leadership in the search for better governance, it is becoming clearer by the day that the former president is still circumscribed – for that assignment – by his personal quarrels with people he met at one point or the other in his political career.
Here, the most glaring example is his penchant to reduce Nigeria’s national politics to his personal quarrel with his erstwhile deputy, Atiku Abubakar. By his own admission, Chief Obasanjo’s worry seams no longer to be the “non performing” Buhari but the fear of getting sentenced to eternal hell fire if he lifts even a finger in support of Atiku’s presidential bid.
To be sure, President Obasanjo is free to nurse personal animosities against anybody but the manner in which he goes about his aversion for Atiku’s presidential ambition suggests that he believes that his personal grudges with his former deputy is one and the same thing with the collective destiny of the entire nation. That, to say the least, is unfair to Nigerians. Chief Obasanjo’s utterances on Atiku Abubakar is one of those things which some observers point to in buttressing their argument that Nigerians are bound to get more confused if they choose to depend on his wisdom in the current quest for a better leadership for their country.
Earlier this year, Chief Obasanjo mouthed a neither-APC-nor-PDP mantra while canvassing his “third force” idea. Today, not only is there no third force but also the former president is now the chief consultant to the PDP whose membership card he tore publicly sometime in 2014 at the height of his opposition to the re-election of the party’s then presidential candidate, Goodluck Jonathan. This is a contradiction which he is yet to explain to Nigerians.
It would, of course, be wrong to query the PDP for trying to consummate a rapprochement because, apart from that fence mending is the nature of politics, itself, no party in Nigeria worth its salt would ask an Olusegun Obasanjo to go to hell, for whatever it is worth. Unfortunately for the PDP, however, there are signs that this voluntary consultancy services being rendered to it by Obasanjo may cause some discomfiture for it.
As we have already seen, Obasanjo’s penchant to talk down on Atiku’s presidential bid, for example, is not only becoming ridiculous but, indeed, constitutes an affront on the collective ability of Nigerians to, on their own, make up their minds on who to elect as their leaders. But even more worrisome is that some presidential aspirants within the PDP may, on account of lack of their own personal strategies for seeking the party’s presidential ticket, adopt Obasanjo’s prejudiced comments on Atiku as a template.
This is how we knew: A recent media report credited the following statement to the aide of Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe State: “…what Obasanjo said is only a pointer to the PDP to look for a credible candidate that will be acceptable to Nigerians. The issue is not about the name of a candidate but what he has done and this Obasanjo’s comment on Atiku is the only chance it has to prove to the people that it is out to give them the best”. Haba!
As far as I am concerned, Governor Dankwanbo’s statement is a big talk down on the party itself. It cheapens the party because to say that Obasanjo’s diatribe on Atiku is the “ONLY CHANCE” the PDP has to prove that it is serious is to suggest that the party will take orders from him on who will be its presidential standard-bearer in 2019. Is that the image the party wants to cut at a time like this? In effect, therefore, the governor’s statement on Atiku is a potential assault on the collective psyche of Nigerians among whom are party delegates who alone will determine who will emerge as the party’s presidential standard-bearer at the primary election.
The PDP should not only caution against the type of utterances made by Governor Dankwambo but also encourage its presidential aspirants to come up with original ideas and thinking on how to get the best for the party; not an adaptation of the prejudices and caprices of others.
- Okere, a journalist and public affairs analyst, wrote from Owerri.