25 May 2018

Nigeria: Obasanjo-Buhari's Feud - Let the Music Play On

Tobi Soniyi argues that the ongoing war of attrition between President Muhammadu Buhari and former President Olusegun Obasanjo may turn out to be beneficial to the country

When former president Olusegun Obasanjo‎ issued a public statement advising President Muhammadu Buhari not to seek re-election as president, the Presidency was cautious in its reaction.

However, it made an attempt to react to a few of the issues raised by Obasanjo but failed to address the bulk of the issues the former president pointed out in the statement.

To refresh our memory, ‎after accusing the president of incompetence in his handling of the economy and inability to stop herdsmen from killing people, Obasanjo said:

"But there are three other areas where President Buhari has come out more glaringly than most of us thought we knew about him. One is nepotic deployment bordering on clannishness and inability to bring discipline to bear on errant members of his nepotic court. This has grave consequences on performance of his government to the detriment of the nation.

It would appear that national interest was being sacrificed on the altar of nepotic interest. What does one make of a case like that of Maina: collusion, condonation, ineptitude, incompetence, dereliction of responsibility or kinship and friendship on the part of those who should have taken visible and deterrent disciplinary action? How many similar cases are buried, ignored or covered up and not yet in the glare of the media and the public?

"The second is his poor understanding of the dynamics of internal politics. This has led to wittingly or unwittingly making the nation more divided and inequality has widened and become more pronounced. It also has effect on general national security.

"The third is passing the buck. For instance, blaming the Governor of the Central Bank for devaluation of the naira by 70% or so and blaming past governments for it, is to say the least, not accepting one's own responsibility."‎

He therefore advised Buhari to take a dignified exit.

Four months latter, the president decided to personally reply Obasanjo. ‎

Last Tuesday, while hosting the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO) at the presidential villa, the president who has hardly made negative comments about Obasanjo took a swipe at the elder statesman and surprisingly hailed Sani Abacha, a former head of state.

‎"No matter what opinion you have about Abacha, I agreed to work with him and the PTF road we did from here to Port Harcourt, to Onitsha, to Benin and so on," he said, adding that "on top of other things in the institution, education, medical care and so on."‎

Buhari, who served as chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), dismissed the opinions people might have against the late dictator and praised him for ensuring the construction of roads in Nigeria.‎

A year after Obasanjo left office, the House of Representatives said the $16billion spent on power by Obasanjo's government was a colossal waste. The legislators blamed this on Obasanjo's poor budget planning and a lack of proper oversight by relevant bodies.

Civil society orgnaisations had also called for a probe, and while speaking with his supporters, Buhari rode on this, asking the former president where the power is.

"You know the rail was killed and one of the former Heads of State between that time was bragging that he spent more than $15 billion, not Naira on power. Where is the power? Where is the power? And now we have to pay the debts and this year and last year's budget I took to the National Assembly was the highest in capital projects, more than N1.3 trillion Naira."

To be fair to the president, he ‎did not mention Obasanjo's name but no one was left in doubt as to who he was referring to.

Replying, ‎Obasanjo said the president was ignorant.

He said, "It has come to the attention of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo that a statement credited to President Muhammadu Buhari, apparently without correct information and based on ignorance, suggested that $16 billion was wasted on power projects by 'a former President'.

"We believe that the President was re-echoing the unsubstantiated allegation against Chief Obasanjo by his own predecessor but one.

"While it is doubtful that a President with proper understanding of the issue would utter such, it should be pointed out that records from the National Assembly had exculpated President Obasanjo of any wrong-doing concerning the power sector and has proved the allegations as false.

"For the records, Chief Obasanjo has addressed the issues of the power sector and the allegations against him on many occasions and platforms, including in his widely publicised book, My Watch in which he exhaustively stated the facts and reproduced various reports by both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which conducted a clinical investigation into the allegations against Chief Obasanjo, and the Ad-Hoc Committee on the Review of the Recommendations in the Report of the Committee on Power on the Investigation into how the Huge Sums Of Money was Spent on Power Generation, Transmission And Distribution between June 1999 and May 2007 without Commensurate Result.

"We recommend that the President and his co-travellers should read Chapters 41, 42, 43 and 47 of My Watch for Chief Obasanjo's insights and perspectives on the power sector and indeed what transpired when the allegation of $16 billion on power projects was previously made. If he cannot read the three-volume book, he should detail his aides to do so and summarise the chapters in a language that he will easily understand.

"In the same statement credited to the President, it was alleged that there was some bragging by Chief Obasanjo over $16 billion spent on power. To inform the uninformed, the so-called $16 billion power expenditure was an allegation against Chief Obasanjo's administration and not his claim.

"The President also queried where the power generated is. The answer is simple: The power is in the seven National Integrated Power Projects and eighteen gas turbines that Chief Obasanjo's successor who originally made the allegation of $16 billion did not clear from the ports for over a year and the civil works done on the sites.

"Chief Obasanjo challenges, and in fact encourages, anybody to set up another enquiry if in doubt and unsatisfied with the EFCC report and that of the Hon. Aminu Tambuwal-led ad-hoc committee."

Chief Femi Fani-Kayode who served in different capacities ‎while Obasanjo was president has joined the fray. He said the "greatest mistake" of Obasanjo was his failure to prosecute and jail Buhari for "looting the Petroleum Trust Fund" under his supervision.

Fani-Kayode, who is under investigation for an alleged fraud of N4.9bn as the Director of Publicity of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan's 2015 presidential campaign organization, made the statement on Facebook on Wednesday.

He said: "The greatest mistake that President Obasanjo made was not to prosecute and jail President Buhari for looting PTF funds.

"I saw the report and it was shocking. Billions of dollars had vanished. Obasanjo summoned him and showed him the damning report. Buhari begged like a baby. Sadly Obasanjo let him off the hook."

Swiftly, the head of communications and strategy for President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign, Mr Festus Keyamo, SAN responded. Keyamo, who did not mention Fani-Kayode's name, tweeted: "The real greatest mistake that OBJ made as President was the appointment of some crackhead into his cabinet with the hope they would stop sniffing the stuff.

"Apparently, that didn't work, hence years later they're still on the stuff and recalling things about PMB that never happened."‎

Like many Nigerians who must be enjoying the comic relief in a country where millions are struggling to eke out a living, Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose has asked Buhari and Obasanjo to continue disclosing what they know about each other.

"I am enjoying these latest brickbats between President Buhari & Ex-President Obasanjo. They should keep exposing themselves for Nigerians to know what they have been hiding. Nigerians should remember I warned that those who brought Buhari will regret entrusting him with power," he tweeted.

Obasanjo has the reputation of picking up a fight with sitting head of state or president. He is not afraid to challenge the power that be. For those who wanted him hanged for this, he is merely exercising his fundamental human rights. Like Obasanjo, Buhari too enjoys this right to freely express himself. Rather than condemn them, we should encourage them to talk more. You don't have to like what they are saying. That is what democracy is all about. For now, let the music play on.

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