Surprise! Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is back in the news yet again. Last Monday’s show in Abeokuta was more spectacular than his previous performances. The card-tearing ceremony was part of activities lined up to dramatise and formalise his exit from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The previous week, he was in Kenya adoringly endorsing Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, the opposition presidential candidate. Buhari’s supporters were over the moon — as if God had spoken. President Goodluck Jonathan’s supporters were jolted — but they went into denial. Two days later, Obasanjo was in London categorically denying endorsing Buhari. Obasanjo!!!
Dr. Reuben Abati, presidential spokesman, has propounded the theory that all Obasanjo wants is to orchestrate a political crisis to engineer an interim national government (ING) to be headed by himself — a backdoor strategy, he alleged, after Obasanjo’s failed attempt to amend the constitution to do a third term in 2007. Whatever the case is, caution should be the watchword in Buhari’s camp. An endorsement by Obasanjo is usually a poisoned chalice. Given what some of us know about Obasanjo, his sudden love for Buhari or the opposition should be taken with a pinch of salt. At 77, Obasanjo is not about to change his character.
Let’s admit it: Obasanjo is an extremely intelligent man. Hate him but admit that fact. In my opinion, he is one of the smartest leaders Africa has ever produced. He knows what he is doing at any point in time. A crack opportunist, he easily reads the direction of the wind. He knows very well that Buhari is the symbol of a movement against Jonathan’s government, a mass movement that is sweeping across many parts of Nigeria more than ever before. For once, we are going into a presidential election without any certainty, with the opposition gaining momentum, with the international community apparently in support of the opposition candidate.
A smart man with Obasanjo’s kind of record knows where to pitch his tent, especially as Buhari has consistently queried the $16 billion spent on power by the Obasanjo government without any results. The files on the Halliburton and Siemens scandals are still gathering dust in the attorney general’s office. Unlike Jonathan, Buhari has the will to go after anybody, no matter who their father is. And I dare say Buhari is about the only Nigerian leader I know today (there may be others that I don’t know) who can take on anybody at anytime. It is only logical for people with skeletons in their cupboard to jump on the Buhari train as a form of insurance policy.
Nevertheless, Buhari should proceed carefully. Obasanjo has a history. I used to be fooled by his “patriotic” interventions in national politics. The earliest I can recall was in the days of President Shehu Shagari. In 1979, Obasanjo conducted a transition to civil rule and handed over power to him at a time of oil boom. But oil prices began to take a tumble in 1982. As Nigerians began to experience the economic crunch, Obasanjo started attacking Shagari in the newspapers on a regular basis. The criticisms were timely, ahead of the 1983 elections, and the opposition parties were over the moon. Obasanjo knows the direction of the wind.
In his memoir, Beckoned to Serve, Shagari said of the coup that overthrew him: “Some public statements by General Obasanjo severely criticising the administration seemed to point to at least a tacit incitement of the military against the government.” He said he tried endlessly to invite Obasanjo for discussion on the situation, especially on the national economy about which he showed some concern, but the general avoided him. He later discovered why Obasanjo had become very hostile to him. “I understand from someone close to him, however, that he had expected me to be constantly consulting him on all matters of government since he had an obsession of being a super-administrator, super-diplomat and of course a military genius,” Shagari wrote.
In fairness, Obasanjo loves to savage his successors. He always packaged this obsession as patriotism. Ironically, he was quite quiet during the regime of Buhari from 1983-85. Why? Was it because, as Shagari insinuated, he knew about the coup? Or was it because Buhari ran a no-nonsense government that took no prisoners? We may never know. But Obasanjo was back in full swing when Gen. Ibrahim Babangida came to power and began to implement economic reforms that made life pretty difficult for Nigerians. It was a good opportunity for Obasanjo to jump on the stage for more theatrics. He reads the wind very well.
Obasanjo spoke eloquently about the need for the structural adjustment programme (SAP) to have a “human face”. He accused Babangida’s government of being “deficit” in everything: budget, finance, honour, credibility, honesty, truth. Obasanjo was at his best when June 12 election was annulled by Babangida in 1993. He read the wind and connected very well with popular sentiments. He lampooned Babangida for the annulment which plunged Nigeria into serious crisis. We all clapped for Obasanjo. But while he was giving the public a very good stage performance, we started hearing rumours that he was deeply involved in the establishment of an ING to effectively kill June 12.
A few weeks later, Obasanjo said, faraway in Zimbabwe, that the winner of the June 12 election, Bashorun MKO Abiola, was not the messiah. That was when I stopped clapping for him. I had seen enough drama. The ING was eventually installed, but it was a fictitious arrangement that allowed Gen. Sani Abacha to seize power in November 1993. Two years later, Abacha grabbed Obasanjo by the neck and dragged him to jail. To tame Obasanjo’s tongue, Abacha had to concoct a coup allegation. Obasanjo himself couldn’t believe that a “whole” him could be jailed in Nigeria. He would later become president in 1999 straight out of prison.
Obasanjo started his second outing by savaging his predecessor and benefactor, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, for “looting” the foreign reserves. Abubakar had, by the way, practically installed Obasanjo as president against the wishes of most pro-democracy campaigners. After spending eight years in government during which he hardly practised what he preaches, Obasanjo installed an apparently sick Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adau as president, and picked a virtually untested Jonathan as vice-president. All on Obasanjo’s mind was that he would be using remote control from Ota to perpetuate himself in government, since he is Nigeria’s messiah — unlike Abiola.
In his book, Accidental Public Servant, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai said Obasanjo told him and other members of his kitchen cabinet that they would be meeting regularly in Ota to define the policy direction of the Yar’Adau government. Having succeeded in amending the PDP constitution to make him the only person who could be chairman of the board of trustees (BoT), Obasanjo thought he had Yar’Adua in his pocket. The new position was designed to be superior to that of the president under the mantra of “party supremacy”. It was a “mentoring” system adopted by Julius Nyerere, the late Tanzanian president, after he left power in 1985.
Writing in THISDAY under the title, “Obasanjo Goes for Nyerere Option”, on December 17, 2006, I warned: “Something tells me that the whole thing about the ‘coronation’ of Yar’Adua is one contraption that may collapse on the heads of those who think they have found a weakling as the next president of Nigeria… anybody who thinks the man does not have a mind of his own may be making a big mistake.” Not surprisingly, Yar’Adua reportedly stopped picking Obasanjo’s calls barely two months after assuming power. Obasanjo hadn’t learnt from his Shagari experience.
As Yar’Adua fell ill and was no longer able to function as president, Obasanjo read the wind and jumped on the stage for more theatrics. He began to openly attack Yar’Adua, apparently to deflect criticism from himself for picking a terminally ill man as president. Obasanjo hit Yar’Adua hard on his sick bed. Some people clapped for him. I did not. Rather, I wrote on January 24, 2010: “Now that he knows that the public mood is against Yar’Adua’s failure to allow Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan act in his absence, Obasanjo has ‘aligned’ with the public again, preaching honour and morality.” The wind-reader is always at alert.
Meanwhile, Obasanjo worked day and night to install Jonathan as president. Obviously, he again thought he would be ruling Nigeria from Ota. But as Jonathan began to gain independence from him — even having the effrontery to revoke the PPP for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway — Obasanjo returned to drama. He has openly flirted with the opposition ahead of the 2015 elections, and those who don’t know him well or choose to ignore his antecedents are popping champagne. May I seize this opportunity to warn Buhari’s supporters. If Buhari becomes president and does not take instructions from Obasanjo or worship at his shrine, it may end in tears.
Is This the End of Boko Haram?
Our recent successes over Boko Haram are more than overdue. We have not only recaptured several towns from them, we have also repelled their attempts to seize more towns or even expand into Gombe. At the rate we are going, the insurgency may soon be curtailed, if not quashed. This is the good news I’ve been longing to hear for years. However, why are we suddenly making good progress? There are several theories. Many say President Jonathan is just beginning to take the insurgency seriously because of the elections. Some say it is because our neighbours are now co-operating with us. Military insiders say special forces have just returned from training and new weapons have been procured from other sources after the snub from the US.
I honestly cannot be bothered by what the theories are. All I know is that Nigerians deserve to live in peace wherever they may be. Too much blood has been shed. Too many people internally displaced. We deserve to breathe again. We deserve some comfort. Nigeria should be in the news for better things. But as we continue to pound Boko Haram, and as happy and hopeful as I am, I worry a lot about the Chibok schoolgirls. If the military raids Sambisa forest, how safe will these girls be? Won’t these deranged insurgents use them as human shield? Ever since these girls were kidnapped, this has been my biggest worry. I continue to wish the military more successes, but I’m so terrified about the likely fate of these girls if they are still in Sambisa forest. Collateral damage?