Nigeria: Obasanjo and the Humbling of Nigeria's Number One Kingmaker

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo casting his ballot at Ward 11, Unit 022, Olusomi Compound, Totoro/Sokori, in Abeokuta.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is considered as one of the most influential politicians in Nigeria, and since the return of democracy in 1999, has been having his say in who becomes the president of Nigeria. At least until now.

Mr Obasanjo was in office as president of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007. He was later enmeshed in a 'third term agenda' scandal, (a plan to modify the constitution so he could serve a third, four-year term as President.)

There was media uproar during this time, and consequently, the bill was not ratified by the National Assembly.

Mr Obasanjo has repeatedly denied he ever planned to stay longer than the two terms.

In an interview with Channels Television in 2007, he denied involvement in 'third term agenda.' He alleged that it was some members of the National Assembly that proposed tenure elongation.

"I never toyed with the idea of a third term," Mr Obasanjo said then.

In this analysis PREMIUM TIMES reviews how Mr Obasanjo endorsed late Umaru Yar'Adua in 2007, Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 and how he endorsed Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.

His endorsed candidate for 2019 presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, however, failed to win the election.

Umaru Yar'Adua

At the end of 2006 in December, Umaru Musa Yar'adua was elected as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) through the support of Mr Obasanjo.

Mr Yar'Adua was afterwards tagged Mr Obasanjo's 'puppet' by the opposition.

Despite his ailment, he won 2007 controversial presidential election that took place on April 21, 2007, and was sworn in on May 29, 2007. Mr Yar'Adua was flown to Germany a month after, March 6, for medical challenges. His media aide said then; the ailment was due to campaign stress.

Mr Yar'Adua left for Saudi Arabia to receive treatment for pericarditis in 2009 but returned to Nigeria on February 24, 2010. He died on May 5 of the same year.

The election that brought in Mr Yar'Adua was considered by many as one of the worst elections conducted in Nigeria's history as even the winner reportedly admitted that the election that brought him was flawed.

Goodluck Jonathan

Mr Jonathan simply became the president after the death of his boss in 2010, and in 2011, many Nigerians adopted his 'no shoes' story.

Mr Jonathan won the general election against Muhammadu Buhari and his running mate Pastor Tunde Bakare with 59 per cent of the votes and was declared the winner on April 18, 2011.

Mr Obasanjo was instrumental to Mr Jonathan's rise from a deputy governor in Bayelsa State to the governor, then vice president, acting president, substantive president and later elected as president.

On February 8, 2011, while speaking at PDP's rally in Oyo State, Mr Obasanjo justified why he preferred Mr Jonathan to other aspirants.

He said the South-south zone had suffered marginalisation over the years and it would be proper to give them a sense of belonging.

Mr Jonathan eventually emerged as president.

However, Mr Obasanjo soon fell out with his protege.

It started by the exchange of letters between the duo. On December 2, 2014, a letter titled "Before it is too late," came from Mr Obasanjo to Mr Jonathan. He accused him (Jonathan) of failure to deliver on his electoral promises, promote national unity, and tackle corruption.

Mr Jonathan fired back in a letter dated December 20, dismissing all the allegations; and challenged the former president, his political benefactor, to substantiate them with facts.

The rift between both leaders created some upset; not just in the PDP, but also in the country.

Mr Obasanjo was instrumental to the political turmoil that ended with Mr Jonathan's ouster at the polls.

The Buhari endorsement

Following the fallout between Mr Obasanjo and Mr Jonathan, the ex-president endorsed the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress.

Speaking at the launching of his book titled "My Watch" in Nairobi, Kenya, Mr Obasanjo, said Mr Buhari was smart enough to rule Nigeria.

"The circumstances (Buhari) will be working under if he wins the election are different from the one he worked under before, where he was both the executive and the legislature - he knows that.

"It's a question of leadership - political and military. He's smart enough. He's educated enough. He's experienced enough. Why shouldn't I support him?" he said then.

Mr Buhari eventually emerged as president beating the incumbent with more than 2.5 million votes.

The election marked the first time an incumbent president lost re-election in Nigeria.

However, just like he did to Mr Jonathan, on January 24, 2018, Mr Obasanjo soon fell out with Mr Buhari highlighting his areas of weakness and advising him not to run for office in 2019.

On January 31, 2018, he launched a political movement called "Coalition for Nigeria Movement" (CNM). The movement later adopted a political party, African Democratic Congress (ADC), to realise its dream of a 'new Nigeria'.

Endorsing Atiku

Despite his past attacks on his estranged deputy, Atiku Abubakar, Mr Obasanjo endorsed him for 2019 election, an endorsement which failed to yield success this time.

Mr Obasanjo had on August 3, 2018, exclusively told PREMIUM TIMES the former vice president should not count on him for support in his bid to actualise his life-long ambition of being elected president of Nigeria.

"How can I be on the same side with Atiku?" he asked. "To do what?" "If I support Atiku for anything, God will not forgive me if I do not know, yes. But once I know, Atiku can never enjoy my support.

"I know Atiku very well. And I have mentioned my position with Atiku. My position has not changed. If my children are getting married, he has sent representatives. If his children are getting married, I have sent representatives. That is social. That is not political. But on political ground, my position has not changed. If I support Atiku for a political office other than the one I supported him in the past when I did not know him, maybe, but not now that I know him, God will not forgive me."

On October 2018, Mr Obasanjo said he had forgiven Mr Abubakar. He then endorsed him to be the president.

"I took the stand I had taken based on the character and attributes you exhibited in the position you found yourself. I strongly believe that I was right. It was in the overall interest of everyone and everything to take such a position. From what transpired in the last couple of hours or so, you have shown remorse; you have asked for forgiveness, and you have indicated that you have learnt some good lessons and you will mend fences and make amends as necessary and as desirable.

"Whenever or wherever you might have offended me, as a Christian who asks for God's forgiveness of my sins and inadequacies daily, I forgive... ," Mr Obasanjo said as he endorsed Mr Abubakar.

Endorsement failure?

Meanwhile, the election results of the February 23 presidential election showed how Mr Abubakar was defeated by the incumbent president, Mr Buhari.

Except Mr Abubakar wins the court process he has initiated challenging the emergence of Mr Buhari in the election, the election outcome may put an end to the 'endorsement power' of Mr Obasanjo.

Since Mr Abubakar's loss in the polls, Mr Obasanjo is yet to speak on the result of the election. He said on Tuesday that speaking on the results would be illegal as the result was already being challenged in court.

Views

Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer and political analyst, told PREMIUM TIMES that the 2019 election is an indication that some politicians have lost their roots.

"I don't believe Obasanjo determines who becomes the president. Elections only align with his endorsement as a coincidence. However, it is also an indication that his time has ended in influencing the result of the election", he said.

Inibehe Effiong

"Beyond that, the political consciousness in Nigeria is increasing. Nigerians now believe that the influence of the former (leader) no longer matters.

Another political analyst, Ademola Owolabi, said the political consciousness of many voters has increased.

"As per his (Obasanjo) endorsement, let us remember that yesterday, Alhaji Abubakar filed a petition in line with the law of the land. As long as that petition is yet to be determined, one cannot say Mr Obasanjo's support has failed. The tribunal may succeed, and it may not succeed.

"But basically, Nigerians are becoming 'people of their mind' as regards what is good for them. They no longer want 'baba sope' (father said) as it used to be. We, however, hoped that it would go round in all parts of the country."

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