Obasanjo: Taming the Rabble-rouser

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Obasanjo

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Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is no doubt a torn in the flesh of succeeding governments in Nigeria, but his recent attacks on President Goodluck Jonathan cost him membership of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party; but for how long can he remain quiet?

By Olu Ojewale  |  Mar. 2, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

CONTROVERSY is like a second nature to former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He relishes and craves it. In fact, since he became prominent as former military head of state in the early 1970s, Obasanjo has been acting as a self-appointed critic to successive governments in Nigeria. The only government he did not criticise was the one he headed as a civilian president between 1999 and 2007.

Of all the administrations, Obasanjo is more virulent in his attacks with the President Goodluck Jonathan government, which he ironically played a very active role in electing to office. In recent times, Jonathan has become the target of his verbal and vitriolic attacks. On Monday, February 16, the former president added a new twist to his condemnation of President Jonathan and his government. In a dramatic fashion and in front of party and non-party audiences, Obasanjo asked the chairman of his ward to tear up his membership card of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

It was later revealed that the former chairman of the Board of Trustees, BoT, of the PDP took the action to pre-empt his expulsion from the party for anti-party activities. Indeed, less than two hours after he dumped the party, the Ogun State PDP executive council, headed by Adebayo Dayo, announced his expulsion from the party over what it termed his “series of unabated anti-party activities.”

But his action did not eliminate the element of surprise created by the former president who was twice elected as president on the platform of the PDP. Trying to explain his action, Obasanjo in three tweets, said his uneasiness in abiding in the same party with a president who he alleged was determined to use corruption to destroy the country. Similarly, he said he would not stay in a party led by a ‘drug baron’ and that his action had freed him to comment on national issues as he felt.

Jonathan
Jonathan

Obasanjo tweets said in part: “I’d rather sacrifice my political party for the interest of Nigeria than sacrifice my country for a political party led by a drug baron. I’d rather tear the PDP membership card than sit down and let Jonathan use the PDP and corruption to tear my beloved country apart. I have national and international standard to maintain. For this reason I’d rather stand alone than be in the same political party with (Buruji) Kashamu.”

The former president said despite the destruction of his party card, he would not be cowed by anyone, as he was still ready to comment on any matter that required his comment or view. “If there is anything that requires my comment, position or views, I will say it. It is only when you kill me that I will stop doing so… My first preoccupation is what is best for Nigeria: Nigeria first, party second and anything third,” he said.

On the military, which cautioned him for some of his utterances and allegations, Obasanjo also accused the President Jonathan government of politicising every public institution in Nigeria, including the Nigerian military. “It’s no longer news that the presidency has politicised every institution in Nigeria. Even the military has chosen to be another arm of the PDP,” he alleged.

Some notable Nigerians have supported Obasanjo’s action. Julius Ihonvbere, who worked as special adviser on Policy and Programmes Monitoring in the Obasanjo presidency, said that the former president was frustrated out of the PDP because he never wanted to leave.

Ihonvbere, who himself left the PDP for the APC and current secretary to the Edo State Government, SSG, said that the frustration was shown in the manner at which he asked his ward chairman to tear his party membership card. “A man who has been two-term president under the PDP, who has been chairman Board of Trustees of the PDP, for him to take that step means he has seen very many things that the average Nigerian has not seen. The PDP is busy insulting people, lying with statistics and documentaries while the APC is telling Nigerians what they want to do. So, Baba is just expressing his dissatisfaction, and his belief and if you know him, that is him, that is his style, he does not pretend for too long.”

Anenih
Anenih

In the same vein, Tam David-West, professor of pathology, said the former president had the right to sever his relationship with the PDP, but he was against the manner in which the military cautioned him. “As a statesman, if he did anything despicable, he should not be cautioned by the military. He was the chairman of the PDP board of trustees. He is a statesman that should be respected. He is a disciplined Nigerian and Nigeria should copy the discipline in the military and extend it to Obasanjo. He has done nothing wrong. He has the right to express himself politically and as a former Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, he should be treated with the respect he deserves,” David-West said.

Abubakar Tsav, a retired police commissioner, hailed the decision of Obasanjo to dump the PDP. Tsav said: ‘’I think the action taken by Chief Obasanjo in dumping the PDP is honourable and in order. You will recall that when Obasanjo singularly nominated Jonathan as the running mate of the late Umaru Yar’Adua, many of his townsmen objected to that. On his part, Jonathan described Obasanjo as his benefactor next to God. Jonathan later referred to Obasanjo as motor-park tout.”

He also recalled that Fani-Kayode was a minister of aviation in the Obasanjo regime, but today has started calling the former president names. “This reminds me of Hubert Ogunde’s song, titled: Yoruba Ronu. Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State has become so wild and undisciplined and has resorted to abusing Obasanjo. The PDP has degenerated into a party of thugs and desperate persons where truth has no place. No decent and responsible person will belong to such an organisation. I hail Obasanjo for his wise and belated decision,’’ Tsav said.

Indeed, Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and former chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, said a study he conducted with some other persons showed that Obasanjo had wanted to be the president’s godfather and hold the position now held by Edwin Clark, leader of Ijaw nation. “But since he couldn’t get it he became virulent in his criticism of the Jonathan government,” Ubani said. The lawyer said that Obasanjo actually caused the situation he found himself. He recalled that when Jonathan served out the remaining part of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s term, he was one of those who agitated that another northerner should be given a chance so that the rotation agreement could be honoured. “But Obasanjo was everywhere with Jonathan taking all over the country asking people to vote for him. Today, things have changed. He should be ready to bear the consequence of all that,” he said.

Fani-Kayode
Fani-Kayode

Nevertheless, Ubani argued that Nigerians should not look at the messenger but Obasanjo’s message. He recalled that it was the same criticism of Obasanjo against the late General Sani Abacha that sent him to jail in the 1990s and almost got him killed. The lawyer said the beauty of Obasanjo’s criticism was that it was always factual. “He is giving us a warning sign that things are not going on well in this country and a man of his calibre should know,” he said.

But the departure of Obasanjo was said to have brought some kind of relief to the Presidency and the PDP which had been the butt of Obasanjo’s stinging criticism in recent times. When asked for his comments, Tony Anenih, current chairman of the BoT and once Obasanjo’s trusted aide, dismissed the former president’s action as inconsequential and that he would not be missed.

Apparently irked by the stinging criticism of Obasanjo, some PDP leaders were said to have been worried that instead of him campaigning for the re-election of President Jonathan, he was unrelenting in his condemnation of the president and his government policies.

This was said to have brought about the plot by some PDP governors, BOT members and members of the party National Working Committee, NWC, to expel him from the party. A source said: “From the president to party leaders, we were all sad by Obasanjo’s attacks against the person of the president who had shown him much respect. We all concluded that what the former president did in an election year amounted to anti-party activities. This is why some of our leaders demanded for Obasanjo’s suspension from the party. They said there was no point having Obasanjo in the PDP to give him more leverage to destroy the party.” The PDP leaders also suspected that Obasanjo was sympathetic to the All Progressives Congress, APC.

Fasheun
Fasheun

Also, Ruben Abati, spokesperson to President Jonathan, came hard on the former president in a statement on Saturday night, alleging that Obasanjo attacks on the president were the consequence of his failure to surrender his administration to the former president. Jonathan said Obasanjo was so bent on controlling his protégées that he would not mind installing the devil in power so long as he could control him.

Femi Fani-Kayode, director, media and publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign, in Abuja, on Sunday, February 15, took the matter a bit further. Fani-Kayode said that soon after Jonathan won the 2011 elections, the former president tried everything possible to control and teleguide him. He alleged that Obasanjo asked the president to do a number of things that were wrong and unacceptable to a government with plans for the people.

“Needless to say President Jonathan refused to be teleguided and told what to do though at all times he showed Obasanjo maximum respect and accorded him all the privileges, access and courtesies that are due to a former head of state and a father and mentor. This continued to be the case even after Obasanjo consistently attempted to undermine his government and ridicule his efforts.

“Yet President Obasanjo could not be appeased and was not satisfied. As far as he was concerned, he must either control Jonathan or Jonathan had to go. That is why he decided to secretly support the APC and became their ‘navigator-in-chief’. He was determined to pull the whole house down rather than allow Jonathan to return to power. This is simply because he believes that if he cannot control someone, that person must be destroyed. Control and domination is an obsession for Obasanjo. That is the bottom line. He is prepared to put even the devil in power provided he can control him,” Fani-Kayode said.

Tsav
Tsav

He insisted that Obasanjo’s grouse with Jonathan was personal and had nothing to do with Nigeria. Obasanjo was said to have asked Jonathan to dump Vice President Namdi Sambo for either Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State or Governor Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State as his running mate in this year’s election. But Jonathan was said to have told him that he was comfortable with Sambo. Besides, Obasanjo was also alleged to have pleaded with Jonathan in to award of some road contracts, but was turned down by the president.

Also, Ebenezer Babatope, a member of the PDP BoT, said that with the exit, a huge yoke had been lifted off the necks of the PDP. “I congratulate the PDP for being patient in dealing with former President Obasanjo’s offensives against the party without embarking on wild and unproductive conclusions. Though Obasanjo is a hard fighter, his exit will have no effect of any kind on the PDP. The PDP will by God’s grace win the March elections,”

Musiliu Obanikoro, former minister of State for Defence, said: “What Obasanjo did is unbecoming of an elder-statesman. In the history of democracy or in any part of the world, I have never seen a situation whereby a former President on the platform of a party did what Obasanjo is reported to have done. If he did that, it shows the level this society has degenerated into and it is evident that such people, cannot be trusted with power.”

Ubani
Ubani

Similarly, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, described former President Obasanjo as the number one enemy of Nigeria, saying: “He is a confusionist who has lost his status as a statesman and Nigerians should simply ignore him.” In a statement issued by Lere Olayinka, his special assistant on public communications and new media, Fayose said:  “Obasanjo is a cancer that may never get cured in a lifetime. The moment Obasanjo is not the one controlling a house, he will want the house pulled down but this time around, he has failed.”

What Obasanjo did according to Fredrick Fasheun, founder of the O’odua Peoples Congress, OPC, was to express himself. “There is freedom of association and Obasanjo has just exercised that. I would not like to suggest the implications for the Yoruba people but it is not every Yoruba leader that can be followed by the people. A leader who does reasonable things will be followed. But when you do unreasonable things, you will not be followed,” Fasheun said.

Whichever side of divide one may be, it is obvious that the last has not been heard from Obansanjo. But whether he would use his new platform as a private citizen person to advance the cause of democracy or continue to castigate his perceived enemies is difficult to imagine. In the meantime, he is a darling of the opposition APC, which is courting his support. But whether or not he will succumb is also another matter altogether.

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