1 May 2017

Nigeria: Making and Unmaking of a "Small" President

Photo: Goodluck Jonathan/Facebook
Former president Goodluck Jonathan.

A new book by a Thisday Newspaper Editor and former presidential spokesman, Olusegun Adeniyi, has already started knocking the heads of those who ruled us for the past nineteen years together. Entitled (in typical fashion): Against the Run of Play: How an Incumbent President Was Defeated in Nigeria, the book has predictably returned former President Olusegun Obasanjo to an old hobby: Goodluck Jonathan bashing.

Obasanjo is well known for his life of ironies, pretences and contradictions. It was during his tenure that members of the National Assembly were reportedly routinely bribed to either remove or enthrone candidates of his choice as Senate President or Speaker or even to amend the constitution to enable him to obtain a third term. On one occasion, bags of old naira notes allegedly deployed for such inglorious venture by the Presidency were spilt on the floor of the House of Reps. Yet, Obasanjo regularly calls legislators "thieves". He engages them in exchanges of insults on the issue of corruption.

An indication of how low Obasanjo and National Assembly members have gone in denigrating each other is seen in a famous episode when a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Umar Ghali Na'Abba, whom Obasanjo unsuccessfully fought to unseat reportedly told him to his face: "Mr President, if you want to see the problem of Nigeria, look into the mirror. You will see him there". Some say Obasanjo has not forgiven the fact that his third term agenda was frustrated by the Senate on 16th May 2006.

Perhaps excited by what he saw in Adeniyi's book, Obasanjo has come out with a salvo against former President Jonathan. Vanguard front page headline of Thursday 27th April 2017 captured it thus: "Jonathan, from the beginning, was too small for the Presidency". Sometimes, Obasanjo's contradictory postures can quite easily pass for deliberate obfuscation to ensure that those who do not understand the substance of an issue would be misled to see him in a positive light he does not really deserve. That is why, in spite of everything, Obasanjo still commands attention and he still has his diehard admirers.

Obasanjo is at his best as a "confusionist" when it comes to the subject of Goodluck Jonathan. You will remember the number of poisonous open letters he wrote to the then President Jonathan in January 2014 which were strangely countered by those of his own daughter, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo, who openly disowned him as her father. Also, recall the drama when he publicly destroyed his Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, membership card in February 2015.

Obasanjo was overjoyed when Jonathan lost his re-election bid in 2015 and he (Obasanjo) drifted to the side of his old political foe, newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari. The same Obasanjo, in January 2017, shocked Nigerians when Jonathan visited him in his hometown in Ibogun, Ogun State. He heaped praises on Jonathan for his "exemplary leadership". Barely three months after that, he now says that Jonathan was too "small" to be President of Nigeria! Talk about speaking from both sides of the mouth!

I have a question: who produced Goodluck Jonathan as the President of Nigeria? I also have the answer: Olusegun Obasanjo, the Balogun of Owu.

When Obasanjo failed to secure his third term bid in 2006, he settled for his Plans "B" and "C". The then Rivers State Governor, Dr. Peter Odili, had felt that Obasanjo would support his presidential ambition because he (Odili) had adequately demonstrated his unalloyed loyalty during their eight years as political partners. Odili had toured the country, and even the North appeared favourably disposed to him.

At the last minute, Odili was dropped and Obasanjo settled for the return of the presidency to the North. But he chose a terminally sick Governor Umaru Yar'Adua (knowing his health condition) as the presidential candidate of the then ruling party, the PDP. He also picked Jonathan, who was running for Governor of Bayelsa, as Yar' Adua's running mate.

I remember the day both of them were presented on television in Aso Villa almost the way the Police parades criminals. A sweaty Jonathan looked diffident and confused, like a conscript. It was clear that Yar'Adua, who had wanted to return to the classroom as a lecturer, was also dragged into the presidential race by Obasanjo; and he was not the one who chose his running mate by himself.

Later events led many people to believe that Obasanjo knew that Yar'Adua was terminally ill. Some said he wanted to punish the North for spearheading the failure of his tenure extension bid by selecting someone who would not live long while joining him with a fit but perceived timid running mate whom he (Obasanjo) would be able to manipulate as the self-styled Life Leader of PDP. This speculation seemed to be validated by Obasanjo's subsequent actions.

As Yar' Adua's health problems worsened, he was flown unconscious to a Saudi elite hospital in December 2009 after 31 months in power. Because Yar'Adua did not properly transmit power to his Deputy as the constitution demands, Vice President Jonathan was initially shut out of power by the wife of President Yar'Adua, Turai, and the famous "Katsina cabal" of the President. The heat which the political impasse generated in the country led the Senate under David Mark to invoke the "doctrine of necessity" to make Jonathan Acting President, which allowed him to lead effectively.

Apparently, from nowhere, Obasanjo, who had been sidelined by Yar'Adua both in the Party and his government, surfaced and became a promoter for Jonathan's full empowerment as President. Obviously, his supposed Plan "C" was on course! Even after Jonathan's 6th May 2010 emergence as President upon Yar' Adua's death, Obasanjo openly urged him to run for President on his own steam in 2011.

Things went awry between Jonathan and Obasanjo when it because obvious once again (just as with Yar' Adua) that he was not allowed to remain as the leader of the PDP, a post which the constitution reserves for an incumbent President. In fact, Obasanjo's position as the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the PDP was threatened as many stakeholders in the Party wanted him out. It was with great reluctance that he eventually resigned as the BOT Chair in April 2012 and served notice that he would no longer be politically active.

Obasanjo merely went back to the drawing board to prepare for war against Jonathan, particularly as he noticed a gradual swell of the political ferment that would eventually oust Jonathan. The quarrel between Jonathan's wife, Dame Patience, and the Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi became a Jonathan versus Amaechi political shootout. Amaechi was a vocal and activist Chairman of the Governors' Forum, a post from which he mobilised rebellion against the President within the Party.

Meanwhile, the North's quest to recapture power had become a regional mania, and Muhammadu Buhari, who had lost three previous presidential elections, had become their messianic arrowhead. Anti-Jonathan conspiracies sprouted all over, and the return of Boko Haram as a murderous Islamist terror outfit shellacked the entire North, with the obvious support of sections of the Arewa political elite. As the opposition groups negotiated towards a merger and the PDP was disintegrating internally, Obasanjo homed into the confusion and started his barrage of vitriolic anti-Jonathan letters.

In the second part of this article coming next Thursday, we will look into what makes Obasanjo describe Dr Goodluck Jonathan as being "too small" to be Nigeria's President, even though he (Obasanjo) was the one who single-handedly foisted him on Nigerians.

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