Former President Olusegun Obasanjo sparks off public debate with his 18-page letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, in which he accuses the president of a number of improprieties
| By Olu Ojewale | Dec. 23, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan does not lack advice. He is awash with it from every part of the country, both solicited and unsolicited. But if an advice comes in an 18-page letter, loaded with recrimination in the media, anyone, including the president could find himself, in a precarious position. That was the situation President Jonathan found himself on Wednesday, December 11, when an 18-page letter written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo appeared in the media.
Obasanjo had in the letter, accused President Jonathan of ruling as a dictator, training a killer gang, driving the country to the edge of an abyss by allowing corruption to thrive, and showing favouritism and discord in the military. Obasanjo said he had written four letters to the president in the past two years but none of them had either been acknowledged or reacted to. “I want nothing from you personally except that you should run the affairs of Nigeria not only to make Nigeria good, but to make Nigeria great for which I have always pleaded with you and I will always do so. And it is yet to be done for most Nigerians to see,” Obasanjo wrote.
Since the publication of the letter dated December 2, Nigerians from different walks of life have been reacting, thereby heating the polity in another way. The letter has stoked the fire of discord among Nigerians.
A good number of Nigerians said the former president has no high moral ground to accuse Jonathan of anything because Jonathan’s presidency is his creation. Others said the Jonathan presidency was merely building on the foundation that Obasanjo had laid. Many have also argued that the former president himself had the opportunity to heal the ills of the nation but failed to do so. In the same vein, some have accused the former president of being too meddlesome and attention seeking because he was no longer in power.
Among the critics that have spoken out was Yinka Odumakin, publicity secretary of Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, who asked Nigerians to be weary of Obasanjo’s letter because the letter does mean well for the nation. Odumakin alleged that the former president had ulterior and selfish motives, which could be dangerous for the country’s fledgling democracy. He said: “If Obasanjo, who happens to be a retired general is now beckoning on fellow retired generals and at the same time inciting Nigerians against a sitting president, something untoward must be going on.” On the issue of corruption, Odumakin said: “The former president has no moral justification to accuse the president because corruption was at its peak under his (Obasanjo’s) regime.
Political murder was not as bad or rampant ever in the history of this nation like we all witnessed under the former president’s regime, while as a matter of fact cases of rigging of elections were unprecedented during Obasanjo’s regime.” The human right activist also condemned Obasanjo for criticising Jonathan’s body language for a second term bid. He reminded Obasanjo of his failed attempt to have a third term in office. Speaking in the same vein, Victor Okhai, a lawyer and public analyst, said leaking the letter to the media was an act of mischief by the former president. Okhai accused Obasanjo of committing the same atrocities he is accusing Jonathan of.
But Monday Ubani, chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Ikeja branch, said, said Obasanjo’s letter was a way for God’s intervention in the affairs of Nigeria. Ubani said he was happy because it appeared as if God wanted to use the former president to expose the insincerity of the ruling class ahead of next general elections. “It is a very grievous allegation. And if those allegations are true, then something needs to be done very fast in order to nip all those things in the bud. Clearly, Nigeria is on the verge of liquidation and if you place over 1,000 people on watch-list and you are going to use snipers to eliminate them as the president of the country, then that is very grave for this country. And then, given the fact this allegation is coming from Obasanjo, a top notcher of the PDP, tells you that there is more to it than meets the eye.”
Abubakar Tsav, retired commissioner of police, Lagos State, described Obasanjo’s letter as ‘timely and appropriate.’ “It is not malicious, self serving or hypocritical. Obasanjo has spoken the truth, he brought in Jonathan and has the right to advice and correct him if he veers off the path of honour as he is now doing. Those defending the president know the truth but simply want to remain sycophants to get ‘chop money’. Jonathan is selfish and self centred,” Tsav said.
Tam David-West, professor of virology and former minister of petroleum resources, said Obasanjo’s letter was apt and in order. ”I congratulate Obasanjo on that and I give him kudos for doing that. In fact, I identify myself with Obasanjo. I have been vindicated on my views on how Jonathan is ruling the country. I have been saying it but some people were abusing me especially E.K. Clark. I cannot support Jonathan because he is an Ijaw man, I will support him if he is a good president but Jonathan is a bad president and a disgrace to the Ijaw people. He has been a colossal disaster and Obasanjo is right on his letter.”
The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, has asked President Jonathan to resign “because Obasanjo has clearly spoken the minds of all Nigerians and it is clear that Nigerians have lost faith in this administration.” Baba Agan, Benue State chairman of the CNPP, said “the letter was explicit enough and it has actually opened the eyes of all Nigerians to how this administration is under-developing our country.”
Itse Sagay, SAN and a law professor, said he feared for the future of Nigeria on account of the controversial letter because it could set the country on fire. “Because for somebody at the level of Obasanjo, a former head of state and I will say, the mentor of the current president to have made these very serious accusations, it sends an alarm bell ringing which could be troubling to every rational citizen. I am, indeed, very troubled. And not only that, the one that even frightens me most is the allegation that snipers are being trained in the same school where the Abacha killer squads were trained and there are some Nigerians under political watch list. That is very frightening because it is not something you expect under a civilian democratic regime except under a military dictatorship. So, it is very frightening and I am very unsettled about it particularly given what happened to Professor (Festus) Iyayi, whose cause of death has not yet been resolved. It is very disturbing.”
In apparent apprehension on the course of event, Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president, said that the issue made him nervous. In a statement issued by his media office in Abuja, Abubakar said like every other Nigerian, he was concerned about the allegations made by the former President and called on elders mentioned by Obasanjo in the letter to add their voices to the issue. The former president specifically said in the letter that he had told the likes of Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar, both retired generals and former heads of state, Alex Ekwueme, former vice-president, retired General Theophilus Danjuma, former defence minister, and others before writing the letter. Abubakar, therefore, urged the leaders in their own right to intervene and restore confidence in the nation’s democracy. He said the allegations were too disturbing to be treated with apathy by any political stakeholder. He explained that at a time the rest of the world was looking at Nigeria as a beacon of hope for stability, the content of Obasanjo’s letter should be urgently addressed by former leaders and elders.
Invariably, the letter seemed to have jolted the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, into action. The party’s hierarchy was said to have met within 24-hours where a decision was made that Bamaga Tukur, national chairman of the party should lead a delegation to speak with national leaders in the country.
Whatever way the PDP leadership and many other Nigerians may be able to do to douse the fire of discord created by the letter, Nigerians have also been made to be aware that Obasanjo’s letter was not a new thing. In fact, it dates back to when he left office as military head of state in 1979. It was alleged that Obasanjo had a quarrel with the then President Shehu Shagari for staying away and not coming to visit him in his Ota farm on issues concerning the running of the state. But associates of Shagari pointedly told him that they were neither obliged to seek his advice nor owe him any form of gratitude.
When the Shagari regime was overthrown by the Muhammadu Buhari junta, Obasanjo was quoted as saying he was not surprised. But when the Buhari regime claimed to be an offshoot of the Murtala-Obasanjo regime, Obasanjo distanced himself from it. The Babangida administration which overthrew the Buhari regime similarly had a brush with Obasanjo. In the course of managing the bad economy, the Babangida regime had introduced the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, in 1986, which changed the shape and structure of the Nigerian economy for good. Sometime in 1987, Obasanjo went publicly to demand that SAP should have a human face. Obasanjo’s statement was quickly rebuffed by Mike Akhigbe, then a navy captain and military governor of Lagos State. Akhigbe, in his response, described Obasanjo as a “frustrated chicken farmer.” Akhigbe’s denunciation of Obasanjo elicited public outrage forcing Akhigbe to keep mute thence.
Obasanjo similarly won the heart of the nation as a defender of democracy when he tackled the Babangida regime for its endless transition programme, which ended in the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late Moshood Abiola. After the annulment, the former president characteristically, told the nation that Abiola was not the messiah that Nigeria needed. Following Babangida’s forced exit, Ernest Shonekan, a businessman, led the Interim National Government, which was eventually overthrown by the late General Sani Abacha in 1994. Abacha who was intolerant of criticisms and soon Obasanjo felt into his trap, when in a BBC interview he accused Abacha’s regime of spending like a drunken sailor. This angered Abacha who devised a means of shutting up Obasanjo permanently. He framed him and General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, his military deputy, into a phantom coup and had them imprisoned. General Yar’Adua eventually died in prison, but Obasanjo survived.
Even after his exit on May 29, 2007 after serving two terms in office, Obasanjo has remained in the public glare for his role in politics. A day after leaving office, the former president was said to have written to President Umaru Yar’Adua, his successor, in a letter dated May 30, 2007 trying to tutor him on what to do. “As you know, for the next few months, perhaps years, your government will be regarded as being in the penumbra of the Obasanjo regime given the situation that brought you into office. Against this background you must toil to carve out a unique identity for yourself and administration. To do this, you must choose wisely your vision and the folks in your cabinet to drive this vision.” Obasanjo also advised Yar’Adua to focus on areas of Security, Rule of Law and Economic development.
However, barely 24 hours after Obasanjo’s letter was made public, both former president and the incumbent president met in Kenya where they both had breakfast together. Reports said Obasanjo paid a surprise visit to President Jonathan at the Intercontinental Hotel, Nairobi, where they had a private breakfast together. Both men were among other African leaders that graced the 50th Independence Anniversary celebration of Kenya, on Thursday, December 12. None of them made a public statement on the issue of Obasanjo’s letter, but Jonathan, in a statement by Rueben Abati, his spokesman, had said that he would give a reply at an appropriate time and told those in government not to react. Nevertheless, as long as it takes for the president to react publicly, divergent views will continue to dominate public discussions on the controversial letter.