Wednesday, June 11, 2014 5:33 pm
Ahead of 2015 elections, there seems to be no let up in the crisis of confidence between President Goodluck Jonathan and former president Olusegun Obasanjo
In Nigeria, estranged relationship between a political godfather and godson is not unusual and a surprise to the electorate. This is because of the aphorism in politics that there are “no permanent friends or enemies but permanent interests”, which interestingly, has often defined associations among politicians.
Examples abound of godsons who had turned the tables against their godfathers. Indeed, Nigerians have lost count of governors and their deputies who had become sworn enemies. And what of the bitter rivalry between a President and his deputy culminating in the latter being stripped of his constitutional duties by his overbearing principal. Certainly, that was one of the absurdities of democracy in the country.
That the relationship between former president Olusegun Obasanjo and his political godson, the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan, has been estranged is not in doubt. What perhaps was surprising is that the chummy relationship between the duo collapsed too soon.
The big question is, what could have accounted for this? There had been a cold war between the two leaders right from the inception of the Jonathan administration. Obasanjo’s camp, it was gathered, is bitter with Jonathan for several reasons and they have never hidden this fact from the President. In particular, the camp is not happy that the President did not deem it fit to involve Obasanjo in taking some steps. They listed the appointment of Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Finance Minister when he knew how Okonjo-Iweala and Obasanjo parted ways. They also accused Jonathan of bringing in Doyin Okupe as his spokesman when he knew that the former president and Okupe belong to different camps in the Ogun State chapter of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Also, Obasanjo’s camp was bitter about the President’s attitude toward the South-west PDP that has no significant representation in Jonathan’s government. Obasanjo wanted Jonathan to kick against Tambuwal, who led a rebellious group to hijack the speakership of the House of Representatives from the South-west. The former president wanted the party, nay the presidency, to mount pressure on Tambuwal to step down but Jonathan did not budge.
In addition, since the Jonathan presidency, there were attempts to cut down the powers of the PDP Board of Trustees, BOT, which Obasanjo headed, and make it mainly advisory. Obasanjo seemed to be the target of the attempt to weaken the BoT which had culminated in an alleged plot to sack him in September 2012. Many believe that Obasanjo’s resignation as BoT Chairman on 13 April 2013 was partly a fallout of the pressure to weaken the board, and by extension, himself. In a statement, Obasanjo said: “By relieving myself of the responsibility for chairmanship of BoT of the PDP, I will have a bit more time to devote to the international demand on me, to give some attention to mentoring across the board nationally and internationally in those areas that I have acquired some experience, expertise and which I have something to share.”
Relations between Obasanjo and Jonathan further deteriorated when Obasanjo’s candidate for the BoT job, former PDP chairman, Dr. Ahmadu Ali, was dropped and former BoT chairman, Chief Tony Anenih, returned to a position which Obasanjo had edged him off unceremoniously. This signaled the fencing of the former president from the inner circle in the presidency, and a gradual decapitation of Obasanjo from the affairs of the party, particularly in the south-west, culminating in the weeding out of his henchmen in the PDP. The victims in this power game are the embattled former national secretary of PDP, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola and the sacked national vice-chairman (South-west) of the PDP, Segun Oni, who has now joined the All Progressives Congress, APC.
But the signs of a strained relationship broke out in the open with Obasanjo’s open criticism of Jonathan’s handling of the Boko Haram crisis. Obasanjo went short of calling the President a weakling for his inability to rein in the insurgents that have thrown caution to the wind by killing and maiming hapless citizens, military men inclusive. Surprisingly, Obasanjo reminisced about his controversial handling of similar threats to national security during his time as President, with particular reference to the invasion of Odi in Bayelsa and Zaki Biam in Benue states, where the entire two villages were left in ruins when the former president used maximum force to suppress insurgencies by militants.
Obasanjo also lampooned Jonathan’s fight against corruption, lamenting the administration’s lacklustre approach to combating the scourge. Obasanjo took a swipe at Jonathan’s administration for waste of the country’s foreign reserves, put at $35 billion in 2007. He said: “We left what we call excess crude, let’s build it for the rainy day, up to $35 billion; within three years, the $35 billion disappeared. Whether the money disappeared or it was shared, the fact remains that the $35 billion disappeared from the foreign reserves I left behind in office. When we left that money, we thought we were leaving it for the rainy day.”
He didn’t spare his party, PDP, which he condemned for lacking the discipline of a ruling party. While warning of a possible revolution, Obasanjo described as frightening the rate of unemployment among Nigerian youths, which could possibly trigger off a revolution if not urgently and holistically addressed by Jonathan’s administration.
But in a televised media chat, Jonathan responded to Obasanjo’s military prescription, describing the military invasion on the people of Odi to fish out militants who killed some security men as futile. To him, the invasion only resulted in bloodshed and loss of innocent lives.
With the political battle line drawn between the two gladiators, Obasanjo has since not stopped to project the Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido, for the presidency come 2015. Little wonder, on 29 May 2013, rather than be in Abuja to celebrate the Democracy Day with the President, Obasanjo chose to attend the first Jigawa State Investment Forum in Dutse, where he showered encomiums on Lamido for being a brilliant performer in whom he (Obasanjo) was well pleased to have helped to office.
On the occasion, Obasanjo, in a veiled reference to Jonathan and a subtle jab at the presidency, said: “You can help someone to find a job but you can’t help the person to do the job. In this case, we find a job for Sule Lamido and Sule Lamido was ready, willing, able and competent to do the job.”
On 13 May 2014, Obasanjo was again in Dutse to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Jigawa State government to adopt a junior secondary school and a primary school in Kudai, Dutse. He didn’t mince words when he said that, given Lamido’s background and pedigree, he is capable of ruling the country. He said: “Given his background, performance and credibility, Lamido is competent. With his exposure, he can stand shoulder to shoulder with anybody.
“If it is the wish of the people, it is okay. He did not tell me he is wishing but being the wish of the people let’s wait and see. Based on past record, would you say Lamido is not competent?”
Before now, Obasanjo had lashed out at Jonathan’s administration, calling it out on corruption and questioning its moral stand and credentials as contained in the 18-page letter he sent to the president, entitled, “Before it is too late”. Besides, Obasanjo’s letter accused Jonathan of placing about 1,000 people on a political watch list and that he was training snipers he planned to use to eliminate his political enemies.
In his response to the letter, which parried many questions posed by Obasanjo, Jonathan, who denied the allegations of snipers and placing some people on a watch list, described Obasanjo’s letter as a threat to national security. He also refuted Obasanjo’s claim that corruption had been thriving under his watch. He said: “Baba, I don’t know where you got that from, but you do me grave injustice in not only lending credence to such baseless rumours but also publishing it. You mentioned God 17 times in your letter. Can you as a Christian hold the Bible and say that you truly believe these allegations?”
To Jonathan, opposition to his administration is attributable to the jockeying for the 2015 elections, pointing out that the bitterness, anger, mistrust, fear and deep suspicion Obasanjo referred to in his letter flow from this singular factor. Indeed, Obasanjo, like several others, said Jonathan made a pledge to do a single term, which he is calling him to honour by not contesting in 2015. Though Jonathan has not come out to say whether he will contest or not, his body language and the various mega rallies held by the PDP across the country suggest that he would soon put his hat in the ring.
There was a report that a meeting held between Jonathan and Obasanjo over the political trajectory of the PDP and conditions over who flies the party’s ticket in 2015. According to the report, one of the demands by Obasanjo was for the removal of Vice-President Namadi Sambo for Lamido. While a reaction from the Jigawa State government had described such arrangement as untrue, Jonathan was said not to be inclined to that suggestion.
It was gathered that Lamido is revving up his campaign machinery for 2015 to run on the PDP platform, at a time the idea of a first right of refusal ticket for the president was hinted at within the party even though the party has not officially taken a position on it. Expectedly, this is just the beginning of political fireworks that would require political shrewdness of the PDP structure, as spearheaded by its chairman, Adamu Mu’azu, to manage.