Obasanjo's Nationalisation of personal agenda and Buhari's re-election bid

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is certainly the most politically active ex-leader of this


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Obasanjo's Nationalisation of personal agenda and Buhari's re-election bid

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is certainly the most politically active ex-leader of this country.

 

Since his forced departure from Aso Rock Presidential Villa after completing his constitutional two terms in 2007, when he had to leave after his failed bid to alter the constitution for a self- centred third term, the self-proclaimed chicken farmer has continually been in the public sphere and in the news for purely selfish reasons. Just like during the long break following his first outing as military head of state between 1976 and 1979, when every

other leader in the 20-year period to 1999 had a taste of his sharp criticism, this practice has returned since he leftoffice in 2007.

 

From former President Shehu Shagari, presidential winner of Obasanjo-managed military-to-civilian transition, to coupists Mohammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, none escaped the volley of criticism from Obasanjo's sharp tongue and acidic pen. General Abdulsalami Abubakar who succeeded Abacha after the latter's mysterious demise in 1998, and who midwifed the democratic transition that produced Obasanjo as elected president, only escaped the chicken farmer's jibes because Abubakar's brief stay was basically to conduct

elections and hand over power, with Obasanjo as the eventual major beneficiary.

 

If Obasanjo's criticism of his successors prior to 1999 could be attributed to his image as an internationally respected African statesman who, as military leader, handed over power (some say 'reluctantly') to a democratically elected president in an era of sit-tightism among African political leaders, his continuous criticism of every other leader since 2007 has basically been image laundry as he is apparently desperate to rehabilitate himself to the public perception of him prior to 1999.

 

Yes, Obasanjo emerged an international statesman after the 1979 handover, a period he also cultivated his self-righteousness. He certainly would have remained that way until he went into partisan politics and exposed himself for the poor political and public administrator that he eventually emerged.

 

Now, he is engaged in laundering his image under the pretense of pursuing the betterment of his fatherland. How Obasanjo can still come out to espouse the rudiments of better government and governance is a measure of our warped socio-political system. But Obasanjo has been

doing exactly that since 2007, the latest being his call on Buhari in last  January, to step down and not to seek re-election in 2019, his reason being that the President has failed Nigerians as he claimed the President's performance had not met the high expectations of the popular acceptance of his candidacy in preference to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. Obasanjo went further to announce the formation of the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), a political movement which he christened 'the Third Force', as alternative platform for the replacement of the President in 2019.

 

Those who know Obasanjo very well recognise that his latest venture has the trappings of ego trip encompassed in his desire to be seen as father of modern Nigeria, a position he is most unsuited for, considering his history since he blazed into presidential power in

1976.

 

He possesses the rare knack and competence for attracting to himself undeserved reliance for providing solutions that are just not within his capacity. How he is able to do this is a study in the

manipulation of the media and the public.

 

Right from the beginning, specifically after his handover in 1979, this public-perception manipulation has gone a long way in establishing him as the voice that counts most, a position not equalled by any other former Nigerian leader. And he thrived and still thrives to maintain that image, a battle he has been engaged in since 1979.

 

But for how long will he continue to paint a picture of himself with strokes made not from the brush of artistic exactitude?

 

When in October 1979 he left office in a blaze of glory, Obasanjo never envisaged any question, especially on financial misappropriation, on his nearly four years at Dodan Barracks, the then

seat of power in Lagos. So, when the story reemerged a few days immediately after he left office, about the rumoured 'Nine tons of Nigerian currency notes' that was very hot the year before, Obasanjo sought presidential denial of  the allegation, with his call that an investigative panel be set up to investigate the matter.

 

And when this was not forthcoming, Obasanjo developed a large grudge against the

Shagari government, igniting a barrage of his criticism of that government. Shagari's reluctance to comment on the matter nor set up the Obasanjo-craved investigative panel gave the rumour some credibility, especially with the news reports in mid-November 1979 that the Nigerian Senate might prevail upon the former Head of State to come and explain to the upper legislative chamber the involvement of his regime in the matter.

 

The allegation was that in preparation for his departure from office, Obasanjo had, in 1978, attempted to smuggle 'Nine tons of Nigerian currency notes' (believed to run into hundreds of millions) from the country, via Uganda, but that the plane was intercepted at the Entebbe International Airport in Kampala, and the money seized by the regime of then Ugandan dictator, Field Marshal Idi Amin. A request to this effect was made to the Senate on 13th November 1979, by Alhaji Sabo Bakin Zuwo, the People's Redemption Party (PRP) controversial Senator from Kano Central.

 

It had led to a rowdy session where the Senate was divided over the the matter, and no

resolution reached.

 

 

While Obasanjo was yet to come to terms with the negative effects of that accusation, the Shagari government constituted the Irikefe Panel the following year, 1980, to investigate the N2.8 billion that allegedly got missing from NNPC accounts during Obasanjo's regime.

Interestingly, Buhari was his Minister for Petroleum then.

 

And the Panel invited Obasanjo to testify before it, an action Obasanjo obviously considered audacious and degrading to his status.

 

An incensed Obasanjo had to secure a court injunction not to appear.

 

Not even the award of the highest national honour, the prestigious Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on him by Shagari in September 1981, which made him to join Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria's first president, as the privileged two to have received the award

then, could mellow down Obasanjo's criticism. The height of which was his, as usual, well-publicised November 1983 exclusive interview with ace journalist and then Editor of Sunday Concord, late Dele Giwa, and published on 13th November 1983, a month before the overthrow of that government, where he accused the Shagari government of wanton

corruption: 'The money that has disappeared cannot come back.' He then advised the government to persuade the corrupt politicians and their acolytes with millions of looted funds abroad to return the money to the country for investment: 'But a little bit of it can come back,

because they are still in the hands of Nigerians, without them losing the money.' This was setting the stage for the downfall of that democratically elected government. When therefore, according to Babangida, the New Year Eve coupists approached Obasanjo in late 1983,

with their plan, presumably in order to douse international outrage against the overthrow of a democratically elected government, the chicken farmer happily gave his nod for the overthrow of a government whose legitimacy was rooted in his democratic transition programme.

 

But clearly not wishing to be seen as being instrumental to the fall of a democratically elected government, especially in the international community, where he still commanded respect, Obasanjo set about setting agenda for the Buhari government for a return to civilian rule. And after the Buhari government settled in and went further to announce that its Supreme Military Council (SMC), the highest decision-making body of his government, was a continuation of

Obasanjo's defunct Supreme Military Council (SMC), Obasanjo was quick to denounce this, if only to disparage Buhari's government, by drawing a distinction between his government that had and executed a democratic transition plan and Buhari's that did not announce any such

intentions.

 

Therefore, Obasanjo's unforgettable speech, delivered to the annual conference of the Agricultural Society of Nigeria, in Ibadan, 22 days before the overthrow of Buhari's government, precisely on 5th August 1985, auspiciously titled Nigeria: The Way Forward, where he continued his criticism of the Shagari government, and called for another democratic transition, presumably seeking another military government that would transfer power to a democratically elected government: 'Let me assert my belief that Nigeria's second experiment at Western-type democratic form of government failed, not due to the fault of the system but due to the fault of the operators of the system.

 

Until 1979, I was by virtue of my training and upbringing what you might call a system man. I believe that if a system was good and well-founded, any person with average ability could make it work.'

 

Still in the Ibadan speech, Obasanjo added, in defence of Buhari's take-over of Shagari's government: 'Let me remind the political ideologues and puritans within and without that considering particularly our experiment and experience of recent past, I will not now regard military administration as an aberration. I am concerned more with good government.' Ironically, Obasanjo also called for another round of democratic transition to usher in a democratic

government.

 

The implication of this, therefore, is that Obasanjo exonerated himself from the failure of the second republic and put the blame at the doorstep of the political class for the return of military rule, which he considered as the best option to this failure; thereby, achieving his personal and selfish agenda of the exit of a 'tactless and disrespectful Shagari' (in the words of one celebrated columnist), with the return of military rule.

 

Babangida's overthrow of Buhari's government later that month was well received by Obasanjo, who easily took a shine to the gap-toothed general, especially with Babangida's

early promise of a return to civilian rule; the success of which would also be to Obasanjo's personal favour: an African statesman who was preaching democracy across the continent, but whose home country was under military dictatorship.

But as characteristic of Obasanjo, he, not quite long after, resumed his criticism of every government in power, pointing out governance defects, most of which his own government could not acceptably execute, especially Babangida's own military-to-civilian

transition.

 

Obasanjo made himself the Critic-in-Chief of the Babangida government, with no major event going by without him making his comment public, and most times critical. So much so that in nominating him as its first 'Man of the Year' winner in 1988, in its annual Man of the Year ritual, The Guardian gave as one of its major reasons for his choice, the watchdog role the General was playing with his criticism of the Babangida government, and keeping the government on

its toes.

 

Following the nation-wide outrage that greeted the annulment of the June 12 presidential election, the Babangida government came up with the idea of the Interim National Government (ING) to run government affairs after his departure on 27th August 1993, and to conduct

another presidential election, to douse the suspicion that the election was cancelled because Babangida did not want to relinquish power.

 

The political class was divided over accepting the ING option, an option, it was later revealed and subsequently confirmed by him, had Obasanjo's input. The ING option lost steam when Chief MKO Abiola, winner of the election, went against it and was able to win over both members of his party, the SDP, and the opposition NRC to turn it down, and insisted on his mandate instead.

 

In the heat of the moment, Obasanjo issued a preliminary report by an interim committee set up by the Association for Democracy and Good Governance in Nigeria (ADGGN), Obasanjo's brain-child. The committee, which was made up of Obasanjo and other senior citizens like Dr Datti Ahmed, Alhaji Mammud Waziri, Dr. Onyemobi Onuoha and General Adeyinka Adebayo, reportedly consulted widely with various interest groups and individuals, seeking ways to resolve the crisis, and concluded that after three hours of meeting with Abiola, members 'left with the impression that the only solution acceptable to the president-elect is his installation on August 27.'

 

However, on Monday, 26th July 1993, Obasanjo added a twist to the committee's position. While addressing reporters at his Ota Farm, he gave a clear impression that he would not mind the jettisoning of the June 12 mandate so long as Babangida was made to quit on 27th August.

His words: 'Ninety-nine per cent of Nigerians who voted on June 12 voted for a change and if they are denied that personality, they should not be denied a change.'

 

Never one to shy away from confrontation, Abiola returned Obasanjo's salvo with equal measure.

 

Receiving a delegation of supporters from Ondo, Edo and Lagos states at his Ikeja, Lagos

residence the following day, precisely on Tuesday, 27th July 1993, Abiola downplayed the weight of Obasanjo's voice, with Abiola's innuendo, which also enjoyed wide publicity, that 'the beauty of democracy is that it puts an end to the magic circle. A former head of state is the same as everybody else.'

 

In the heat of the June 12 annulment fiasco, when Nigeria was in a turmoil over what could become of the nation if Babangida did not hand over power on the landmark date of 27th August, came the news from faraway Zimbabwe that Obasanjo, on a visit to that country, had told reporters that Abiola was not the messiah Nigerians had been waiting for, a comment which provoked nation-wide bursts of outrage back home, with many commentators insisting Nigerians did not expect a messiah and did not vote for one.

 

Responding to the outrage his comment generated, Obasanjo, in an opinion piece he sent to The Guardian, explained that he was asked if indeed Nigeria could explode if Abiola was not sworn in, and he had only responded that such a scenario was unlikely because Abiola was.

 

 By: Onyechi Anyadike, who wrote from Lagos

 



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