By Duro Onabule
With barely a year to the presidential election and until a while ago, beyond speculations and perhaps clamour for particular favourites, we never knew the aspirants. But, more out of arrogance and jealousy, former President Olusegun Obasanjo (already) descended on those he diagnosed should forget the elections. Jealousy? That is deplorable enough. Yet, we must add envy to Obasanjo’ reasons for his self-imposed political obstruction.
In his Christmas message to Nigerians in 1962, Nnamdi Azikiwe, as Governor-General, described envy as a more deadly disease than jealousy. We now know reason(s) for Zik’s observation.
Jealousy is the exhibition of inferiority complex of a desperation to preserve a presumed personal distinction. With that status, envy sets in at the slightest seeming or real prospect of that distinction being equalled or challenged. Most frighteningly, when envy develops, no holds are barred. Hence, the deadliness of envy.
Obasanjo seems to be more disturbed by the candidacy of President Muhammadu Buhari, such that within two months, he (Obasanjo) has assailed the man twice even though the sum total cannot be appropriated to more than once. Largely diminished by the hypocrisy of a man who only failed in his attempt to rule for life after the constitutional limit of two terms, now waging war on another man to go home after only one term, Obasanjo’s notorious letter to that effect failed to impact as much as he expected.
Part of the reason for that abysmal failure was that Buhari directed his men to treat Obasanjo’s unprovoked war with total contempt and it worked. Within weeks, Nigerians seemed to have forgotten everything about him while, in contrast, the tide turned in favour of Buhari as his major constituencies all condemned Obasanjo and embraced Buhari all over for a second term even when he had not yet expressed interest.
Obviously enjoying the backlash (trailing Obasanjo), Buhari gained renewed confidence to attend official engagements at home and abroad and also stole the show at social functions involving his close political associates like state governors and the colloquium marking Bola Tinubu’s birthday in Lagos. Except for the overzealousness of security agencies in causing avoidable traffic inconvenience for residents, the Lagos show, clearly much to Obasanjo’s chagrin, served as APC’s fitting response to unite behind Buhari for the 2019 elections
That bit was one with which Obasanjo never reckoned and, instantly, his frustration at the failure to politically cut down Buhari was discernible. In the midst of some “not too young” who solicited his support at Abeokuta, Obasanjo’s performance to resuscitate his war on Buhari against the 2019 elections was pathetic. The normally boisterous former President in television accounts of his audience with the young lads was incoherent, jerky, occasionally lost in thought, struggling for ideas, scratching his head and lacking in confidence.
Like a boxing champion defending his title and finding his challenger dazed, Buhari chose that moment to land the knockout blow as he announced his intention to run in 2019. Stunned, it’s been total silence from Obasanjo since then.
For the 2019 presidential election, Buhari was to face the strongest opposition from People’s Democratic Party, the political platform on which Obasanjo ruled for eight years as elected President. But for some unknown reasons, Obasanjo dismissed the same PDP, no matter the presidential candidate, as no substitute for APC. Obasanjo, thereby, enhanced the 2019 race for Buhari. In return, the PDP hierarchy is more bitter with Obasanjo than with Buhari. And most unusually with presidential elections not too far away, traditional rulers in the South West have been awarding pass mark to Buhari, an implied rebuff for Obasanjo.
There are certain misconceptions about Obasanjo, which are always cited as justification for his intermittent outbursts against other prominent Nigerians. Obasanjo is passionate about Nigeria? Only to the extent of running down contemporaries to enhance his own interests as he feels threatened. The truth, therefore, is that Obasanjo is passionate about himself. Those he had run down in the past were Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari (as military ruler), Ibrahim Babangida (as military ruler), Sani Abacha (as military ruler), Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and now Buhari again.
Obasanjo once publicly demanded of General Musa Yar’Adua what the latter forgot in government to make him desire to contest presidential election. Yet the same Obasanjo not only turned round to contest the presidency but also unsuccessfully tried his luck as life president of Nigeria. Was that his passion for Nigeria? Even before President Yar’Adua took ill and died, Obasanjo already commenced running him down in world media merely because he would not allow Obasanjo to run government for him. If, therefore, Yar’Adua had survived and, as of right, tried to seek a second term, Obasanjo would have opposed him. And, of course, Obasanjo opposed the re-election of Jonathan. Is that being passionate about Nigeria?
There is the other most laughable impression that Obasanjo has such electoral or political influence to determine anybody’s political survival. Hence the young ones now dancing round Obasanjo in the hope he can get them elected as President, senators and governors.
Except as incumbent President who rigged his re-election for a second term in 2003, when, out of power, did Obasanjo ever succeed in personal aspiration for power even as a military officer? By the way, former American President Jimmy Carter, a major international observer for the 2003 re-election of Obasanjo, stood out as a Baptist clergy, and refused to sign the election result on the ground that the election was not free and fair. Also, as outgoing President in 2007, Obasanjo manipulated the PDP constitution to make only himself (as a former elected President) automatically eligible as chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees with more sweeping powers than the part’y’s national chairman. As soon as Obasanjo left Aso Rock, the PDP hierarchy called an emergency meeting with final plans to remove him as chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees. Obasanjo immediately resigned with the questionable claim that he was no longer in politics. He could not save himself.
How much did Obasanjo contribute to Jonathan’s defeat or Buhari’s victory in 2015? Virtually nothing. Jonathan lost major block constituency in the North because he allegedly did not honour what must have been a gentleman’s agreement of 2011 to return the presidency to the north in 2015. Jonathan demanded any documented agreement he signed to that effect. The North broke from PDP, leaving Jonathan electorally stranded with the key to Aso Rock easily available for Buhari, especially with his overwhelming popularity in the North, coupled with home delivery of South West votes by the Bola Tinubu’s political caterpillar. As usual, Obasanjo merely jumped into Buhari’s bandwagon of a “sure banker” winning candidate to bask in the man’s glory. Better still, Obasanjo can test his current anti-Buhari campaigns for the 2019 presidential elections away from Abeokuta to Ekiti, Ibadan, Ogbomoso, Lagos, Wushishi, Gwandu, Maiduguri, Biu. Kaura Namoda, Sokoto, Kano even Onitsha, Enugu-Port Harcourt road. Rail lines being constructed from Lagos to Ibadan, Lagos to Abeokuta, Lagos to Port Harcourt, Kano to Katsina, etc. A trip along the yet-to-be-completed Lagos-Ibadan expressway will educate him on the difference between his eight-year “no show” and Buhari’s barely three years of purposeful governance. That is the gap winning the showdown for Buhari.
Even as a military officer, his junior lieutenants pampered Obasanjo throughout his career up to Aso Rock. Read General Alabi Isama’s memoirs. After the nullification of the June 1993 elections and Bashorun Abiola’s death, the gang of four, former President Ibrahim Babangida, ex-Head of State Abdulsalami Abubakar, ex-army chiefs General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma and General Aliyu Gusau, imposed Obasanjo on Nigeria as an elected President, even in violation of PDP’s constitution that an aspiring presidential candidate must initially win the primaries in local government ward. Obasanjo lost his ward but still was forced on the party by the army generals, who catapulted him to the presidency.
A final example to show that only while in office could Obasanjo display some power. In contrast to the fact that, after leaving Aso Rock, he could not sustain himself as self-imposed chairman of PDP’s Board of Trustees, the same Obasanjo, throughout his eight-year tenure, appointed and removed the party’s national chairman as he fancied. He removed the only elected national chairman who, ironically, oversaw the party’s national convention, which violated the party’s constitution to earn him the nomination, late Solomon Lar. Within a few months, Obasanjo replaced Lar with Bernabas Gemade, who did not last, as he was replaced with Vincent Ogbulafor. Humiliated out of office, Ogbulafor gave way to Audu Ogbeh as the new PDP national chairman, who would not play ball for Obasanjo’s third term agenda. The final choice after Ogbeh, fell on retired Col. Ahmadu All. With a bogus electoral or political value of their mentor, aspiring members of the so-called third force will eventually discover that they are on a journey to nowhere.
Overall, Nigerians are being told that the first is not good, the second is a non-starter and yet there is no alternative. Such lack of seriousness was the major reason Buhari was being asked by Obasanjo not to contest the 2019 elections. So ridiculous!.
*Chief Duro Onabule, veteran journalist and editor is a columnist for The Sun newspaper.