At the enthronement of the fourth Republic in 1999, esprit de corps among former military Heads of State and retired Generals played vital roles in deciding who won the presidential election.In unison, they agreed that one of them, General Olusegun Obasanjo (Rtd), who was Head of State between 1976 and 1979 and was just released from prison, should be the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which later won the election.
In 2003, when President Muhammadu Buhari first threw his hat into the ring to contest the presidency, he did not get his colleagues’ support, and many wondered what went wrong with the esprit de corps. This was the situation until 2015, when they eventually gave their nod, and Buhari’s ambition to become the president became a reality.
But in all these political games of the “old soldiers”, Obasanjo took the lead and was never afraid to operate where even the devil feared to tread. When he disagreed with Jonathan’s administrative style, not only did he did go against him, but he also tore his PDP membership card, though he was the party’s chairman, Board of Trustee (BOT) for many years.
The 2015 political event defined Obasanjo’s character and personality. He surprised many with how he fought Jonathan and PDP to a standstill, while openly declaring his support for Buhari.
Buhari, who emerged the presidential candidate of the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC), spoke glowingly of Obasanjo and how courageous he could be when it comes to speaking truth to power.After the election, Obasanjo was among eminent Nigerians that
congratulated Buhari and set agenda for him. But the bidding relationship between the two leaders began to turn sour shortly after Buhari announced his cabinet.
It was gathered that Obasanjo expressed dissatisfaction at the apparent concentration of some cabinet positions to the North West, especially the way some Katsina-born politicians and retired security personnel were reported to have hijacked the presidency. Obasanjo’s close aide and a former military administrator, Gen Olagunsoye Oyinlola said Obasanjo withdrew his support for
Buhari because of his alleged northernisation of Nigeria.
He said: “It was realised that Buhari was trying to northernise the government. And truly, the appointments were a clear demonstration of nepotism. But Obasanjo could not say anything because he was at the forefront in the campaign to install Buhari. And when it became difficult for somebody to reach out to the President to chip in one or two words of advice, then what are you still doing there?
“It is just a shame that in this country, we seem to gloss over serious issues. The President’s wife said the man is not in charge, that there are only two or three people running the government. What more could have been said?” Members of the public began to notice cracks in their relationship towards the end of 2017, when Obasanjo spoke at a Forum in Lagos and noted that he supported Buhari because Jonathan failed the nation. He declared that Nigerians should only expect Buhari to perform in the area of security, but described him as a bad manager of the economy.
By January 2018, Obasanjo shook the whole country with his letter to President Buhari entitled: “The way out: A clarion call for coalition for Nigeria movement.” The letter passed a damning vote of no confidence on Buhari and advised him not to seek re-election.In the letter, Obasanjo said: “many of you may be asking, ‘what has brought about this special occasion of Obasanjo issuing a Special
Statement?’ You will be right to ask such a question. But there is a Yoruba saying that ‘when lice abound in your clothes, your fingernails will never be dried of blood’. “When I was in the village, to ensure that lice die, you put them between two fingernails and press hard to kill them, and they always leave blood stains on the fingernails. So, to ensure you do not have blood on your fingernails, you prevent lice from being harboured anywhere within your vicinity…”
He listed result of Buhari’s poor performance to include poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, condoning and encouraging misdeeds, lack of progress and hope for the future, as well as running the country without national cohesion.
Saying Buhari had surprised many that knew him in three areas, he criticised the President for “nepotic deployment bordering on clannishness and inability to bring discipline to bear on errant members of his nepotic court, which 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…”
He also accused Buhari for “his poor understanding of the dynamics of internal politics, which has led to wittingly or unwittingly making the nation more divided, while 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 Central Bank for devaluation of the naira by 70 percent or so and blaming past governments for it…”Obasanjo ended his epistle by advocating a coalition movement because according to him, both the APC and PDP had failed the nation.
Sensing the landmine Obasanjo had placed on the route to his re-election bid, Buhari warned all his aides not to respond to Obasanjo’s attack, but the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed did. His reaction was cautious and devoid of diatribe. He carefully explained what Buhari’s government had done and how the challenges Obasanjo identified were being addressed.
He said Buhari’s government had no reason to believe that Obasanjo had any motive beyond the nation’s well-being in issuing his Special Press Statement, and that his admonition had been taken in good faith.
However, that gesture didn’t stop Obasanjo from working on another political platform that emerged from the coalition. At the end, the coalition adopted the African Democratic Congress (ADC), with Obasanjo deciding to take a back seat in the running of the party’s affairs.
And though ADC is strong in a few states, especially Ogun, its strength and structure at the national level could not displace APC and PDP. This might have informed the success achieved by Father Matthew Kukah, Bishop David Oyedepo and Sheik Ahmad Gunmi in brokering peace between Obasanjo and his estranged erstwhile Vice President Abubakar Atiku. The rapprochement seemed to be a turning point in Atiku’s political voyage, as it actually helped him to win the PDP presidential ticket.
To Obasanjo, the story of Atiku and PDP was like that of the biblical prodigal son, who realised his mistakes, went for restitution and obtained forgiveness, while that of APC was like that of a thief on the left hand side of Jesus Christ on the cross who did not accept that he was a sinner and died without recompense.
Many Obasanjo critics have argued that he lacks the moral high ground to be the country’s compass. They are of the opinion that he was on a battle that might lead him to political irrelevance, and have been quick to remind Nigerians of his misdeeds as President, especially his failed third term agenda. They, however, failed to address the issues raised by the former president. Obasanjo has remained undeterred, as he has gone ahead with his campaign against Buhari, whom he said was grossly incompetent to govern the country.
A year after issuing the public statement and less than a month to the general election, Obasanjo struck again with another statement that portrayed Buhari as a desperate politician. He likened him to the late General Sani Abacha.He accused Buhari of putting into practice the things he learnt from the late former military head of state, Gen. Sani Abacha, by “attacking the National Assembly and now unconstitutionally and recklessly attacking and intimidating the judiciary to cow them to submission…
“Criticism, choice and being different are inherent trademark of democracy. If democracy is derailed or aborted, anarchy and
authoritarianism will automatically follow…,” he said.He urged the international community to issue more serious warning and send more people to the field to observe and work out punitive measures against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He listed these measures to include withdrawal of visas, freezing of bank accounts and prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of those who frustrate credible elections.
This last attack has attracted different reactions from Buhari’s supporters, including Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and other APC apologists. To them, Obasanjo was himself a despot, whose vituperation should not be given serious consideration.But the Presidency in its official reaction by Garba Shehu dismissed Obasanjo’s letter as a sign of “corruption establishment” fighting back, saying the “puerile attacks” was because the former leader could not control President Buhari. The “war of words” has continued and may become more intense as February 16 approaches, when Nigerians will decide who occupies Aso Rock till 2023.