Written by UCHE OHIA
Since the 18-page “open letter” which former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan was released to the public domain, there has been disquiet in the land. Statements have been issued for and against, commentaries and even editorials have been written. In many articles and columns the belligerent contents of the letter have been viewed and reviewed from different angles. Some commentators have opted to beam their searchlight on the writer of the controversial letter, Obasanjo, an elder statesman that is not averse to stirring the hornet’s nest.
Reading through Obasanjo’s letter, there is no doubt that he raises salient issues that are of fundamental interest to all Nigerians. But, they are mostly trite or mired in political diatribes. In a nutshell, Obasanjo’s angst is founded on his aversion to the idea of Jonathan seeking re-election for a second term in office, his fury over the handling of the crisis in the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to which he belongs, his disgust with Jonathan for overriding his (Obasanjo’s) political leadership and influence culminating in the imposition of a particular person as PDP zonal leader for the South West zone, and what he perceives as Jonathan’s incompetence in various respects including his condonation of ethnic irredentism and criminality.
The rest of Obasanjo’s letter consist of a bundle of contradictions: allegations, lamentations, and admonitions plus veiled chest-beating and bizarre confession of his role in past electoral manipulations and such other outbursts that a wizened old fox would haul from a safe distance at a younger and more virile one that has outfoxed him in the jungle.
Shorn of political jingoism and patriotic pomposity, the only thing that can be deduced from Obasanjo’s bellicose letter is that he has an axe to grind with President Jonathan. It is clear from this extremely venomous letter that the primary objective of the writer is to torpedo the perceived ambition of Jonathan to run for a second term as President. But, by the singular action of demanding that Jonathan should perish the thought of a possible re-election bid, Obasanjo contradicts himself and shows quite clearly that he is not a democrat. If he was, he would realize that in a democracy, it is only the people that can renew or refuse to renew anyone’s mandate and they can only do so through the ballot box. If at this stage in the democratic evolution of our country the renewal of the political mandate of an elected public office holder is not determined by the people but by the whims and caprices of one man, then our democracy is in danger and our future is in jeopardy.
Obasanjo argued that Jonathan’s reelection bid would constitute a breach of some promise the president is alleged to have made before the 2011 election to the effect that he would serve for only one term. Unless Obasanjo is living in denial, he cannot pretend to be unaware that Nigeria’s recent political history is replete with politicians that reneged on their pre-election promises and on top of the list is Obasanjo himself! Was it not Obasanjo who was said to have promised to serve for one term to pave the way for the return of Ibrahim Babangida, the architect of his prison-to-state house odyssey but after he won the election, he began to sing a different tune? Was it not this alleged promise that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar sought to force Obasanjo to keep in 2003 that set him on a collision course with the vengeful Balogun of Owu whose ire is like a whirlwind? Atiku touched the tiger’s tail again when he instigated opposition to Obasanjo’s “Third Term Agenda” in 2007 and came out of the ensuing battle badly bruised with his political ambition in stitches.
Concerning the allegation of “dividing” and “destroying” PDP, Nigerians know better. Was it Jonathan that foisted a military command structure and farmed out political territories to political war lords which put democracy in retrogression in Nigeria? Was it Jonathan that promoted the emergence of “parallel structures”, factions and unending divisions that have arrested the development of the PDP and prevented it’s natural development? Even a political novice knows that it is the absence of internal democracy and the institution of the undemocratic culture of imposition and anointment of unpopular candidates both at congresses and party primaries by Obasanjo that is at the root of much of the unending crisis in PDP. If Jonathan has adopted this undemocratic template, then he is merely reading from Obasanjo’s script. Is it not the same Obasanjo that is now chanting the mantra of “politics is a game of numbers” in his letter that initiated the massive deregistration of political opponents from which the party is yet to recover.
During Obasanjo’s eight-year administration, interference with the party and with the electoral process, harassment and persecution of perceived political opponents, unending removal and replacement of Senate Presidents and PDP National chairmen were common place. Was it not Obasanjo, as President, that announced to Nigerians that politics, for him, is a “do or die” affair? Controversial impeachment of governors and declarations of state of emergency, high profile murders, abduction of a sitting governor and setting of the state capital on fire, sale of federal government assets, misuse of government institutions such as EFCC, INEC, and ICPC, etc, were the order of the day. What about the scandalous land allocations, international bribery scandals involving multi-national companies, innumerable corruption cases, human rights violations, flouting of court rulings, controversial projects such as Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abuja Stadium, Transcorp shares, etc. It is commonsensical that anyone that lives in a glass house should not throw stones. Obasanjo is the least qualified person to censure or admonish anyone or to pontificate on corruption and malfeasance as he sanctimoniously did in his letter not being without stain in that regard himself.
If Obasanjo is looking for a scapegoat on whom to hang the leadership failures that have brought Nigeria to the edge of the precipice, he should look in the mirror. The truth is that we, Nigerians, have all failed: self-serving leaders, tepid civil society groups, dispassionate students, wealth-amassing clergy, pinging and face-booking youths, internet-tiger diasporan community and an annoyingly docile populace. We have all failed. We can launch tirades against our leaders from the safe confines of our comfort zones, we can talk the talk, but no one is prepared to walk the walk to freedom and justice.
If Obasanjo wants to develop letter writing as a hobby, he should learn to do it properly. A letter, any letter, should follow certain rules anchored on decency and decorum. If Obasanjo wants to put on the toga of an advocate of the masses, then he should abide by the rules of engagement which place objectivity and civility in front so that younger generations do not mistake absurdity for propriety. Any one that goes to the court of public opinion is like one that goes to equity: he must do so with clean hands. It is sheer hypocrisy and double standards for anyone to play the advocate in a matter in which they are as guilty as the accused.
If Jonathan were to adopt Obasanjo’s adversarial style, heat rather than light would be generated. And such heat could lead to a conflagration the end of which no one can predict. Thankfully, unlike Obasanjo’s daughter, Iyabo, that chose to add to the fray by writing to her father in the horrid lingo that he and his protégée, Femi Fani Kayode are best at, President Jonathan in his reply to Obasanjo, aside from addressing the issues raised in Obasanjo’s corrosive letter, adhered to the fine art of writing with decorum which ought to provide Obasanjo with a civilized specimen for his future letters. A statesman should exhibit civility in his manners and language.
What Obasanjo has done by placing the integrity of the office and person of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the global chopping block is a bad precedent. The job of president of any country is tough enough without a predecessor having to vilify the occupant by writing letters capable of corroding the confidence of the investment community, inciting the people and destabilizing the nation. If anyone had dared to write such a letter to Obasanjo while he was president, it would have been akin to waving a red flag before an enraged bull.
Even if everyone criticizes or condemns Jonathan, Obasanjo by reason of his age and experience should be the last person to join in the needless Jonathan-bashing that seems to have become a national pastime among many Nigerians citizens at home and in Diaspora. There is no other country in the world where citizens take their leader to the cleaners as we do in Nigeria. And it is very rare to find any country where a former president libels and defames his successor in the reckless manner Obasanjo has done especially when they belong to the same political party! If a retired general, a former military head of state, a former civilian President and an elder statesman of Obasanjo’s standing says that the president of his country is dishonest, incompetent, and untrustworthy, how can any reasonable person except adventurers and pirates do business with that country or it’s citizens?
Obasanjo’s letter to Jonathan is not only an embarrassment to the nation, it is a costly gambit that has wrought incalculable economic damage to the image of the country, the costly investment drive, the tourism promotion campaign, the integrity of the presidency, and the perception of every Nigerian in the eyes of world. Not even Jonathan’s courteous and timely reply can remedy that in the long run.
So much vitriol and virulence drip from every page of Obasanjo’s letter that no discerning person can be persuaded that he wrote out of patriotism or any altruistic consideration. His letter was crafted to obliterate the credibility of Jonathan and his administration and to, thereby, deliver a mortal blow strong enough to sink Jonathan’s inchoate presidential reelection ship. Period! Even the postscript of Obasanjo’s letter in which he craved the indulgence of Jonathan to “share the contents of this letter” with some named persons and to extend the sharing to the world at large suggests an uncharitable intent and am attempt to obfuscate his true intension. The English writer, Francis Bacon (1561-1626) may have had the likes of Obasanjo in mind when he wrote in Essays “Of Cunning”: “I know one that when he wrote a letter he would put that which was most material in the postscript, as if it had been a bymatter”.
In 1998, Obasanjo published a book titled “This Animal Called Man” anchored on the premise that man is a contradiction. Obasanjo’s letter to Jonathan dated December 2, 2013 serves as a good example of just how contradictory this animal called man can really be. I rest my case.
Ohia, wrote from Owerri