Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Jonathan's Reply to Obasanjo - Too Little, Too Late?

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President Jonathan's reply to the letter written to him on December 2 2013 by Obasanjo was rather late in coming.

Jonathan's letter, dated 20 December 2013 - some 18 days after Obasanjo wrote and leaked his to the press - raised punches but failed, in my opinion, to deliver devastating blows. Given the delay in replying, I had expected that Jonathan's reply would be loaded with finely decorated bombshells and polite but deadly uppercuts. I didn't get that. What I got was what rather appeared to be an apologetic piece - as if pleading with Obasanjo not to strike again. In a quick and terse reply, Obasanjo said he stood by his allegations and that he would not be offering any reply to Jonathan's letter.

While it is accepted that Jonathan should be presidential and restrained in his reply, I believe there is a difference between being apologetic and being humble or restrained. The former is actuated by fear, the latter by good manners. In my opinion, Jonathan's 'restrained' reply appeared to have been written by someone who wanted to avoid a dogfight at all cost. Also none of the counter allegations levelled against Obasanjo was new - just like there was nothing new in Obasanjo's allegations against him - except the issue of training snipers and having 1000 Nigerians on a political watch list. I had expected new allegations that would have forced Obasanjo to go on the defensive.

Jonathan's reply however raises a very vital question: If a benefactor is magnanimous enough to buy a pair of shoes for someone but does not display the same magnanimity in allowing the benefactor the freedom to walk around in those shoes, how will the beneficiary defend his freedom without appearing to be ungrateful? Put differently, what should be the fine line between being captive to past benevolence and doing the needful to protect oneself from the unwholesome machinations of bad-wishers? Jonathan's reply must be analysed within the context of his efforts to navigate through this tough question.

Apart from the above, there are a number of other issues with Jonathan's reply. On a technical level for instance, I do not feel that it was necessary for the President to adduce as many as ten reasons on why he should reply Obasanjo's letter. For me, justifying the need to reply around those ten reasons made what should be a pungent preamble to be rather too lengthy and therefore a derogation from the main essence of the letter (akin to the subplot competing with the main storyline). These ten reasons would have been more pungent if they were collapsed into three reasons with additional two reasons on why the reply was late in coming.

I also find the format adopted in enumerating those ten reasons rather clumsy. For instance the President wrote that he felt obliged to reply Obasanjo for a number of reasons: "one, you formally requested for a reply and not sending you one will be interpreted as ignoring a former President". Now instead of counting, 'two', the next point was counted as, 'secondly'. After this there is a switch to the short adverb in the system of enumeration - "the third reason why", the "fourth reason for this reply", the "fifth reason is". After giving the fifth reason for replying, there was a switch back to the use of long adverbs - 'Sixthly you are very unique... ". There is another reversion to the short adverb: "The seventh reason is.., 'the eighth reason is that... " "the ninth reason... ", the "tenth and final reason".

I also feel the system of ordering his points of defence is problematic. Given his public persona and perceptions of him as a humble and unassuming man, I feel he should have started with defending himself against the charge of training snipers and having 1000 Nigerians on a watch list. I think it was the most damaging of all the charges in Obasanjo's letter but also the one that will perhaps be most convincingly defended given Jonathan's public persona and the sharp contrast between absence of politically motivated assassinations under him and the impunity that took place under Obasanjo. Again instead of challenging Obasanjo to swear by the bible about his training snipers, (most of our leaders take oath of office holding the Bible or Quran and violate the oath without anything happening), wouldn't it have been more effective to challenge Obasanjo to a television debate on the matter? Also for someone who felt unjustly accused, it will not be out of place to show restrained anger in the letter. I didn't' see such anger.

Again, what was probably the most convincing defence in the letter -the statistical evidence showing that foreign direct investment inflow into the country in the three years that Jonathan led the country was nearly equal to what Obasanjo achieved in eight years - was tucked somewhere near the end of the lengthy letter. Though one could legitimately question whether the supposed improvement in FDI is due to the policies pursued by the Jonathan administration or because of a new wave of Afro-optimism, I feel the point should have been the second - after rebutting the charge of training snipers.

One of the most disappointing of the defences in Jonathan's reply was his argument that because of the demands of the high office of president, he "cannot possibly find the time to offer a line -by -line response to all the accusations and allegations made in your letter while dealing with other pressing demands of office and more urgent affairs of state". This defence creates the wrong impression that the President personally wrote the letter and by extension also writes his speeches. We know this is not the case. The truth is that people know that high political office holders need and use speech writers. There is no shame in that. There are also usually several research assistants employed by high political office holders. Therefore mentioning that he did not have the time to do a line-by-line rebuttal not only comes across as insincere but also reminds people of those points he failed to address in his reply.

In the same vein, the story that Jonathan has dragged Obasanjo to the Human Rights Commission and has called on the anti-corruption agencies - the EFCC and ICPC to investigate Obasanjo's allegations against him - will not be enough to convince the public of Jonathan's innocence. Does anyone really expect any of these agencies to find a sitting President culpable? After all, Obasanjo as President once asked the EFCC to probe allegations of corruption against him by Orji Uzor Kalu, who was then Governor of Abia state. As should be expected, he was given clean bill of health. It would have therefore been more impactful if the President had announced the institution of actions for malicious libel against the retired general, especially over the charges about training snipers. At least by that Obasanjo would have been forced to reply, if not to his letter then in court.

I think Jonathan challenging Obasanjo to name instances of his regime being soft on corruption removes the shine from some of his rebuttals. Everyone knows of people accused of corruption and committees set up by even the presidency to investigate those allegations without anything being heard about the recommendations of those committee - not to talk of implementing such recommendations.

While I believe it is right to make Obasanjo and others like him to realize that they do not own Nigeria, I also believe bringing the issue of his family life into it is in bad taste. The relevant assessment of Obasanjo should be as a political leader, not as a family man. Mandela and several iconic leaders are admired, not for their personal and family lives but for their political contributions. While I am not in a position to defend Obasanjo against some of the shameful allegations by his children - first Gbenga who claimed Obasanjo slept with his wife, and now Iyabo- it may be tempting to pose the question of how many families are out there without at least one family 'shame'/'secret'? It is not abnormal for parents to fall out with their children. What I regard as shameful about the Iyabo letter is an educated woman apparently taking delight in the public humiliation of her own father. 'Honour your father and mother' is one of the Ten Commandments of God in Christian religion. And it is the only one of the Ten Commandments that comes with a promise: "Honour your father and mother", says the Commandment, "that your days may be long". In this sense, Iyabo's letter tells me more about her and those trying to exploit it than it tells me of Obasanjo.

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