HomeNewsFace off: Ex-President’s Way or The Highway: The true, incredible story of Obasanjo and Jonathan
Face off: Ex-President’s Way or The Highway: The true, incredible story of Obasanjo and Jonathan
By Jide Ajani
For a man who enjoyed so much support to become Nigeria’s President and Commander-in-Chief, he did not need a letter from former President Olusegun Obasanjo, his former benefactor, to appreciate the discount his administration is suffering. Fortunately for him, the messenger has poisoned the message with highly concentrated bile. However, the wise paradigm for Aso Rock to engage is a careful re-assessment of the basis of governance with a view to doing the altruistic needful in its own interest. This is the compelling argument in this piece.
On that night of December 22, 2002, it was a meek, very meek, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who bore his now familiar demure demeanour visage in one corner of the expansive chamber inside Aso Rock Presidential Villa. A deputy governor, it was not particularly easy for him to mix freely with the crop of governors who were in attendance. The meeting was a crucial one to determine the plausibility of then President Olusegun Obasanjo’s suitability for a second term of office. Mind you, Obasanjo had, just three months earlier, survived a very crucial impeachment plot against him. Therefore, the meeting of that night was to fashion out a zoning formula that would ratify an eight-year tenure for the South and another eight-year tenure for the North. Of the 51 persons in attendance – all Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, leaders – 47 voted for the proposal, two abstained and two voted against it. Jonathan was one of those who voted for zoning to help Obasanjo out. That was in 2002.
Fast forward to December, 2009, some seven years later: Once Obasanjo was allowed the privilege of seeing then ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in Saudi Arabia, and not minding the commitment family members extracted from him before allowing him the rare access, it was a haughty Obasanjo who railed at the sick president, calling on him to resign. This, after breaking limbs and bruising heads to ensure that the selfsame Yar’Adua emerged as President just two years earlier. With Obasanjo’s outburst, events took a frenetic pace and Jonathan became first, Acting President and, later upon Yar’Adua’s death, took over as President and Commander-in-Chief.
Again, Obasanjo quickly assumed the role of cheer leader, admonishing Jonathan to seek the presidency of Nigeria, not minding the zoning arrangement that had been put in place by his party though, without prejudice to the unequivocal provisions of the 1999 Constitution regarding eligibility to seek the office of president. So, whether Obasanjo wanted to assist Jonathan become president or whether he still saw the latter as the weak, meek persona who used to cringe in the presence of Obasanjo inside Aso Rock Presidential Villa whenever he was ordered to report, and, therefore, wanted a malleable number one citizen, only Obasanjo can answer the question truthfully.
What is, however, incontrovertible is that Obasanjo’s overbearing disposition as well as Jonathan’s undue meekness was soon to create a life.
JOINT VENTURE IMPEACHMENT OF DSP ALAMIEYESEIGHA Sometime in 2005, the plot to remove Jonathan’s boss, then Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, began. Obasanjo knew that he needed the trust and confidence of Jonathan to ensure the success of the impeachment. Quickly, Jonathan was recruited.
Now, whether the then deputy governor had his eyes on his boss’ seat or whether Obasanjo simply, typically bullied him into going along with the plot, only President Jonathan can honestly provide the information. Between being bullied and eagerly acquiescing, Alamieyeseigha was improved in a gangland style perfected by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, under the leadership of Nuhu Ribadu – the legislators of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly were practically abducted and forced to impeach Alams as Alamieyeseigha was known. Jonathan was the beneficiary as he became governor. From that moment, the relationship between Obasanjo and Jonathan was like that of father and son. To consummate this, at a time when there was a need to select a running mate for Yar’Adua, after Peter Odili had been wrestled out of the contest and promised the vice presidency, Obasanjo, for inexplicable reasons, chose Jonathan.
The story of how they fell apart on account of Obasanjo’s seeming overbearing presence is no longer news. However, what made news last week was the letter Obasanjo wrote to President Jonathan alleging all manner of things and all but labeling the latter a criminal by association.
THE FIRE THIS TIME This would not be the first time that Obasanjo, for whatever reason(s), would take on, in brutally frank, nay wickedly opportunistic manner, Jonathan as well as other presidents before him.
In Obasanjo’s letter, he identified the following areas of displeasure: *Possible consequences of current situation in the country *Non-acknowledgment of four letters or responses to same *Semblance of Abacha era *Do everything to guard, protect and defend our fledgling democracy, nourish it and prevent bloodshed *Division of the country along weak seams of North-South and Christian-Muslim *Don’t allow the country to degenerate into economic dormancy, stagnation or retrogression *International friends and development partners are genuinely worried about signs and signals that are coming out of Nigeria *Take advantage of the present favourable international interest to invest in Africa *Legacy and your climb-down which you alone can best be the manager of, whenever you so decide. *Jonathan’s association with a known wanted criminal
The former president, who also goes by the derisive alias of Ebora Owu (the spirit of Owu), explained each point as best as he could.
But Obasanjo missed the point on quite a number of cases.
For instance, in the case of insecurity, it was during Obasanjo’s time that the following high-profile murders occurred and are yet to be solved: Killing of Bola Ige, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation; Marshall Harry and Aminasoari Kala Dokubo, leaders of the PDP; et al.
In the instance of the PDP and the crisis in the party, Obasanjo all but locked up his party Chairman, Audu Ogbe, just to extract a resignation letter. This after the same Obasanjo had maligned and tried to ridicule his deputy, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, serially; this, after installing Barnabas Gemade instead of the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi as party Chairman; this, after encouraging state chapters of the PDP to abandon the party for governors’-elect residences; and whereas all over the world, political parties engage in mobilization drive to attract new members, Obasanjo, with the active connivance of Ahmadu Ali as Chairman, embarked on a re-registration of party members with a view to weeding out those who would oppose his tenure elongation agenda.
Obasanjo explained that he would share his open letter with former military presidents Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar as well as disengaged General TY Danjuma.
This also brought its own curious twist – the same Babangida Obasanjo described as a ‘fool at 70’ or the same Abdulsalami that Obasanjo maligned so much by displaying cheques he claimed the former signed away to government or the same Danjuma with ‘whom the centre could no longer hold’ and who reportedly claimed that Obasanjo may end up once again in jail?
The interesting point about Obasanjo is that he dominates his environment and conducts himself like a locomotive engine whose break system has gone kaput.
WHEN OBASANJO MOVES TROUBLE FOLLOWS Perhaps, the furore generated by the Obasanjo letter may not have mattered if the former president’s vituperations had not been precursors to unwholesome repercussions.
For a man who has a history of fore-bearing repercussions of gargantuan proportions, even a perceptively weak president must be worried.
Sometime in 1975, a group of lecturers in the University of Ibadan (numbering five) were engaged in a very hot argument about some comments made by then Federal Commissioner for Works (Obasanjo) about General Yakubu Gowon, the then head of state. Their argument was hinged on the propriety of such a statement coming from a serving commissioner in such an administration. In the coming weeks, Gowon ceased to be head of state. Immediately after the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, congress where Obafemi Awolowo chose Sir Umeadi as his running mate for the 1979 presidential election, Obasanjo, as military leader, sent words to Awolowo, according to sources who were inside Dodan Barracks, Nigeria’s seat of power at the time, that if Awolowo did not drop Umeadi as running mate, he could as well kiss the presidency goodbye. Awolowo refused to shift ground. The rest is history.
Obasanjo has had a very long history of talking down on the government of the day, sometimes playing the role of a prophet of doom only for such governments to become history.
He spoke up against the Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari administration and it became history in a matter of weeks; he spoke against Muhammadu Buhari in 1985 and, soon after, Babangida became military president. When Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, was beginning to bite hard, Obasanjo openly challenged him, declaring that his SAP “must have a human face and a milk of human kindness”. Soon after, there was the famous SAP riot of 1989 – a people’s revolution of sorts. At the beginning of the June 12, 1993 presidential election annulment, Obasanjo, it was, who said Babangida should be treated like a bull in a chinaware shop that needed to be guided out of power. He also told Nigerians that they should forget Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, winner of that election, because he was not the messiah Nigerians were looking for. The sad initial end of the statements was that Babangida was forced to step aside and Abiola never reclaimed his mandate.
During the Sani Abacha regime, Obasanjo took on the no-nonsense Abacha but landed in jail for allegedly participating in a coup plot to serve life. He was lucky he didn’t get the death penalty. And as earlier recorded, after seeing Yar’Adua in hospital, he went public to hint at the mortality confronting the then leader, setting in motion a sequence of events at very frenetic pace leading to the emergence of Jonathan being able to become Acting President.
The Ebora Owu has, in the past, moved against former Governors Lam Adeshina and Rasheed Ladoja of Oyo State; Niyi Adebayo and Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State; Joshua Chibi Dariye of Plateau State; Olusegun Osoba and Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State; and the late Pa Ade Adefarati of Ondo State. Bola Ahmed Tinubu survived him in Lagos.
WHAT JONATHAN CAN AND MUST DO Perhaps, if President Jonathan can, for once, put his house in order, he can begin to have a glimmer of hope at deconstructing and demystifying Obasanjo. But that is not possible now.
Inside Aso Rock, there is manifest contestation for power, fueled by a regime of sycophancy and nepotism, all of which contribute to creating an unnecessarily bad image for Mr. President.
Firstly, the likes of Chief Tony Anenih and Anyim Pius Anyim, who survived Obasanjo’s shenanigans, are reportedly close to Jonathan. Then there are Governors Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State and a few others who do not have an over bloated idea of their sense of importance who can be very strategic in thinking and forceful in action, compared to some who enjoy listening to the sound of their own voice and who relish deceiving Jonathan.
If truth be told, why would the president of a country like Nigeria have more than a dozen visitors waiting to see in as late as 11pm.
A foreign observer who frequents the Villa disclosed to Sunday Vanguard that sometimes as at 11pm, “you still find almost two dozen people still waiting to see Mr. President. The character of some of these people can never be of consequence to governance. These are not Service Chiefs or critical ministers in the regime. It is either the president has requested to see them or some officers of state have allowed them access to see the number one citizen. In a country of 150million people, the president needs to avoid being blind-sided by aides whose only interest is pecuniary.”
A president should be able to read his files and get his country moving. On the issue of clannishness, there is nothing new about that. Yar’Adua’s people dominated Aso Rock. However, after four years of the Jonathan presidency, he should now be able to understand that the excess baggage he brought along from Bayelsa when he was an ordinary deputy governor or vice president may actually become too excessive for his own good.
If it is generally accepted that only the deep calls to the deep, a presidency that allows narrow, pecuniary interests to drive some of its actions would not hold up a lofty pole on which would be hoisted ideas that can move a country forward.
When Han Fei Tzu (280 to 233 BCE) said “if evil (aides) enjoy, safety and profit, this is the beginning of downfall”, he may not have had the Jonathan administration in mind.
The objective meant to be achieved by Obasanjo in writing what he wrote may have become dysfunctional in an unintended manner.
Perhaps, had Obasanjo consulted widely and allowed a collegiate responsibility to hold sway (like the G-18 or G-34, during Abacha’s regime) for such a message – without all the bile and innuendoes – the message may not have been lost and President Jonathan may have, indeed, been in deep trouble. As it stands today, because Obasanjo is the messenger, the message is lost.
However, the window of opportunity that Obasanjo has presented to Jonathan is that he should wake up, become more presidential, do away with the dregs hanging around him, quiet the buffoons who continue to irritate other Nigerians with their visceral verbiage and focus on the average Nigerians who voted for him.