Nigeria: Perils and Promises of Obasanjo's Letter

UNILORIN used Obasanjo’s open letter to Buhari to set exam question for its Mass Comm 100L students.
6 February 2018

Magnus Onyibe provides a rare insight into the letter written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Muhammadu Buhari

Considering the circumstances under which Olusegun Obasanjo, obtained the privilege of leading Nigeria twice, the expectations of most Nigerians that he would not be arrogant was not unreasonable.

But instead of being humble, Obasanjo has gradually taken on the toga of an oracle, if not a Demi God in Nigeria that must be appeased by anyone who aspires to lead the nation.

But having been assisted to lead Nigeria twice by luck, he may have justification for believing that he is a special one.

So far, evidence abound that he has successfully played the role of an avatar or sentinel in previous political developments.

For instance, leveraging on his power of incumbency, as he was exiting office, he thwarted his Vice President, Atiku Abubakar's presidential bid after a nasty public fight that entailed the washing of dirty linen in public.

Curiously, muckraking which is usually the fall out of his previous letters to sitting heads of state, has not been recorded in the current open confrontation with the government in power .

That may be due to the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari might have chosen to observe and honour the military ethos of respect for hierarchy strictly.

In other words, since the military hierarchy is always respected by serving or retired officers , Buhari the current Aso Rock villa occupant might have made the decision not to openly take the battle back to Given the scenario above,it did not surprise some of us that the usually very combative presidential spokesmen and equally loquacious information minister have been tame in their response to the very incandescent missive that Obasanjo addressed to their principal.

For the likes of Garba Shehu , senior special assistant and Femi Adesina, special adviser on media to have kept their usually poisonous arrows in their quivers and allow only Lai Mohamed, the usually pugnacious information minister to try to deodorize the otherwise very pungent , if not toxic public umbrage against Buhari by Obasanjo, there must have been clear instructions from the commander-in-chief to hold fire.

To properly understand the promises or perils of Obasanjo,s open letter to PMB, we must look beyond headlines to unearth underlying factors.

Obviously , Obasanjo has now become a serial public letter writer lambasting heads of government. This is by virtue of the fact that he has authored similar explosive mails to Ibrahim Babangida, late Sanni Abacha and Umar Yar'adua of blessed memory as well as Goodluck Jonathan in the past 40 years.

That the third force which mysteriously made him head of state in 1976 without plotting a coup and again crowned him president in 1999 without going through the rigours of politicking from bottom up, worked again for him in 1998 by mysteriously terminating Sanni Abacha's life before he could take him to the gallows, further strengthens the mysticism of Obasanjo phenomena.

In the light of his close shave with death, if Obasanjo was an ordinary mortal, he could have learnt a lesson or two but as some have noted, he is mystical hence he has defied all odds and continues to imperil himself by literarily stirring the hornets nest in writing inciting letters to his successors.

Apparently, PMB's strategy to be taciturn either in deference to the unwritten rule in the military not to engage in public spat with superior officers or in furtherance of his legendary style of taciturnity, has equally paid off.

This is because members of the public who form the support base of PMB have seized the opportunity to pick up the gauntlet by releasing a tidal wave of bile and vitriol against Obasanjo in an equally open letter accusing him of the crimes he levied against PMB which amounts to hypocrisy.

The face-off is now a proxy war as Obasanjo supporters , on and offline in the social media have also been lambasting PMB.

It is a case of my enemy's enemy is my friend.

To demonize him, some of them had resurrected a vitriolic letter written by his daughter, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello who had engaged her father in a public brawl, ostensibly for being a very bad dad owing to his alleged megalomanic tendencies.

Curiously, in spite of the damning and ignoble parenting flaws exposed by OBJ's scions about him, the self appointed moral conscience and messiah of Nigeria, has neither been fazed by it nor has his political capital been diminished.

His hero image is perhaps derived from the fact Obasanjo seizes opportunities to stir up controversies that elevate him by playing to the gallery of the long suffering and unwary members of the public whose emotions he manipulates by pretending to be the champion of their causes.

Against the backdrop of the narrative above, is Obasanjo an opportunist, a genuine and concerned patriot or just a mystic?

It can be argued both ways because his latest letter to PMB could be both a problem and an opportunity.

Clearly, Obasanjo was on point as all the concerns contained in the letter are quite cogent and already being expressed by a broad spectrum of patriots nationwide.

But the only snag is whether he has the moral authority to pontificate as he did in his message to PMB.

Love or loathe him, his timing is always right because he only cashed in on an opportunity to be the voice of the voiceless when the back of Nigerians were literarily pushed against the wall owing to hardship arising from a perceived derelict leadership.

Thats why, to me, this is a kind of dejavu encore.

In 2015, candidate Buhari similarly capitalized on the suffering of the masses ostensibly due to the 'clueless government' of Goodluck Jonathan which was accused of monumental corruption and rode into Aso Rock on that premise.

In 2018, owing to the absence of a credible presidential candidate with mass appeal to challenge Buhari, it became inevitable that Obasanjo, as ex head of state who still has political fire power in his belly to galvanize public angst against his targets, would seize the moment to muddy the 2019 political water for PMB via his letter.

It is settled conventional wisdom that nature abhors vacuum, and to that extent , it can be argued that Obasanjo is only filling a political void.

And this belief is underscored by the fact that he is not only tagging PMB a bad product, but he is also marshaling his support base through a political platform aptly tagged Coalition For Nigeria Movement, (CNM) also known as the 'Third Force' (which has a mystic connotation) aimed at spoiling the chances of the ruling and main opposition parties, the APC and PDP in 2019 general elections.

And by so doing Obasanjo may be finally stretching his narcissistic traits to new levels by taking the moral high ground of being all-knowing and perhaps the one appointed by God to save Nigeria. An attitude which his antagonists have alluded to in their scathing responses to his letter.

In 2007, OBJ pushed for Nigerians to vote for late president Umar Yar'Adua and they did. A little over two years into his tenure, he became gravely ill and Obasanjo tried to convince Nigerians to vote against him if he fails to resign and even nudged the National Assembly, NASS to impeach him. But the man passed away before Obasanjo's fury could become a storm .

Again he cajoled Nigerians to replace late Yar'adua with then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.

Nigerians obliged him and a few years after, he literarily bayed for the blood of his 'blue eyed' political prince-Jonathan when he sought a second term.

Anybody else but Jonathan, he sermonized.

Obasanjo had his way and the incumbent president Buhari leveraged the void created by the schism within the PDP which OBJ master minded by dramatically tearing up his membership card of the party on whose platform he ruled Nigeria for 8 years.

Obasanjo's larger than life image can be situated within the foregoing strings of successes in determining the direction in which Nigeria's leadership pendulum swings.

But given that under his watch nothing spectacular happened in Nigeria in terms of deepening of democracy or growing the economy and he has continued to coax or sometimes coerce Nigerians into voting-in or voting-out of office of at least two presidents that he hand picked after his exit from power , where does OBJ derive his authority or audacity to keep twisting Nigerians between his fingers, one may wonder?

One intriguing answer may be rooted in the new zeitgeist reality that moral decadence does not play critical roles in the process of choosing leaders.

Not in Nigeria and not even in the USA, the acclaimed reference point for liberal democracy.

Adjunct to that is the ability to identify the prevailing sentiment or resentment of the masses and key into it.

The assumptions above are derived from the fact that Americans elected president Donald Trump about a year ago into the White House despite evidence of misogyny supported by video clips of his boast about groping women and after a handful of women stepped out to accuse of him sexually assaulting them.

Despite his moral issues, what earned Donald Trump the presidency is his America First philosophy which is borne out of the feeling by rural Americans that they were loosing their country to immigrants like Mexicans, Arabs and Africans.

The sentiment is a resurgence of the principles behind Nazi anti Semitism propagated by Adolph Hitler in Germany and racial segregation hitherto practised in the USA and enforced by Ku Klux Klan, kkk.

Following the same principle, in Nigeria any promise to empower the masses against the elite who are believed to have been emasculating them energizes the masses like opium does to addicts.

Interestingly, Trump who has vociferously denied all the allegations by referring to them as fake news, has effectively leveraged his media prowess, particularly Twitter to drown the voices of his accusers.

By the same token, in Nigeria Obasanjo's voice has been very loud through his public letter writing just as PMB had also effectively used the media to gather the momentum that propelled him into Aso Rock villa in 2015.

Arising from the above, one clear thing that can be gleaned from both Trump and OBJ's narcissistic and megalomanic tendencies is that he who shouts the most and panders towards populist ideology by zeroing in on the interest of the downtrodden masses, gains the most public sympathy and support.

So, often times political success boils down to the ability of an astute politician to fully harness the awesome power of the media in the mobilization of citizens by capitalizing on their common concern to achieve set personal agenda/objectives .

In the light of the above, the following three posers are in order :

Has lyabo's letter and Gbenga's rebellion damaged Obasanjo enough for PMB to continue to ignore him ; has Obasanjo overreached himself this time as his support base might have seen through his subterfuge and will his mission of a new coalition of politicians dubbed the Third Force to torpedo the ruling and main opposition parties, APC and PDP be accomplished? Only time will tell.

Nevertheless and in the mean time, it will be foolhardy for PMB to like Jonathan's rely on the power of incumbency and awesome financial war chest such as the $1b purportedly budgeted to fight Boko Haram that opponents are alleging is actually meant for the presidency to apply in winning the election again in 2019.

Today, every average Nigerian appreciates better, the power of his/her voter's card which now counts mainly due to the improvement on the integrity of voting via the introduction of electronic voting.

Presently , Nigerians are like the proverbial Catalonian bull seeing 'red' as a result of the socio/economic and political circumstances that are currently strangulating the country.

It is a no brainer to fore tell that in 2019 the electorate will vote with their hearts as opposed to being tele-guided.

As such, a simple antidote to the looming risk of being booted out of power is for the government in power to develop all the concerns raised in Obasanjo's letter into an action plan for urgent attention before 2019.

Put succinctly, Obasanjo's letter should be deemed and adopted as a position paper from an experienced consultant to an organization that is seeking remedy for a malignant tumor that has the ability and capacity to become cancerous and terminal.

In the fullness of time, the latest Obasanjo intervention will help to further mystify or demystify the brand and phenomenon known as OBJ.

Most importantly,since the public spat has compelled PMB to engage in self appraisal, it could also pull Nigeria back from the precipice where it seems to be hanging right now, if conscious efforts are made to correct identified flaws, so we wait.

Quote

In 2019, the electorate will vote with their hearts as opposed to being tele-guided.

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