Editor's note: In this piece, Emmanuel Oladesu a political editor with the Nation writes on the recent attack on President Muhamamdu Buhari by former president Olusegun Obasanjo.
Oladesu says although the former president sees himself as a democrat who had laid a foundation of exemplary leadership in Nigeria, Obasanjo's leadership style speak otherwise for him.
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Olusegun Obasanjo, retired general, civil war commander and two-time Head of State, stirred the hornet nest last Sunday during his review of the country’s preparations for next month’s presidential elections.
He described himself as a democrat. In his highly-inflammable statement, he said President Muhammadu Buhari is worse than the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, who jailed him and hounded many politicians into detention. The General lied.
The Ekerin Egba peeped into the nearest future, doubting the ability of the Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC) chaired by Prof. Mahmud Yakubu to conduct free and fair elections. Obasanjo is backing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate and his former deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
The handwriting is bold on the wall. Ahead of the poll, the Ota farmer regressed into a curious defense mechanism, alerting the international community to an imminent election rigging that should attract punishment by powerful western countries.
Many Nigerians have applauded Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) for being a loyal deputy and injecting dynamism into the administration. The professor of law has been up and doing in the re-election campaigns. But, living up to expectation as a cunning, crafty and politically destructive actor, Obasanjo said Osinbajo has been busy buying Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs) from prospective voters with N10,000.
The Doctor of Theology said the vice president cannot be a man of God, urging Pastor Enoch Adeboye, who inducted him as a priest in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) to terminate his priesthood
The remarks by the former president are similar to his previous outbursts. In his letter to President Buhari last year, he painted a picture of gloom for the country.
The politician, who craved a third term, admonished his colleague in the military to jettison his second term ambition. He failed to endorse the efforts at revamping the socio-political economy, blaming the president for incompetence and lack of capacity.
Having failed to alter public perception about the administration, he cajoled the youths by urging them to bid for power.
Obasanjo inspired the formation of a political party, the African Democratic Congress (ADC), which could not fly. Then, he turned his back to the youths by abandoning his push for generational shift.
The former president also ate his words by striking a deal with Atiku out of frustration and desperation. Contrary to his portrayal of the Waziri Adamawa as an epitome of corruption in his books and numerous speeches, he made a u-turn, saying that he is better than Buhari. He opposed Atiku in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015.
But, in 2019, he suddenly woke up from slumber and became Atikulated.
Less than a month to the presidential election, he resumed his old tricks of maligning, intimidating and blackmailing candidates, reminiscent of what he did to Atiku in 2007 as flag bearer of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and ex-President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015.
Basking in the inexplicable euphoria of his candidate’s recent journey to the United States, he sought to further dent President Buhari’s image as he sought to shore up Atiku’s image. His appeal to Nigerians fell on a deaf ear. The plot collapsed like a pack of cards.
Generally, it is believed that Obasanjo is a statesman. He had an opportunity to make greater impact in office. But, after serving two terms as the civilian President, he left the stage with a perception that has continued to hunt him in public life.
Is Obasanjo a democrat or an impostor who craved for greatness without trying to fulfill its full requirements? Was his regime not worse than the current administration?
As president, he was the lord of manor. His word was law. As the PDP leader, he was the party and the constitution of the party. In eight years, the then ruling party had four national chairmen. That party leadership instability was his making.
He cleverly pushed away the pioneer chairman, the late Chief Solomon Lar. Later, he subjected his successor, Chief Barnabas Gemade, to the same ordeal, making him to curse the party. Also, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who succeeded Gemade, also had a bitter experience.
The same style pervaded governance. When former Anambra State Governor Chris Ngige was abducted, the former president gave a tacit support to his tormentors, led by Chief Chris Uba.
Under his watch, a gale of impeachment hit the polity. The victims were former Governors Joshua Dariye (Plateau State), Senator Rashidi Ladoja (Oyo), Ayodele Fayose (Ekiti) and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (Bayelsa). The impeachment did not follow the laid down procedures. Dariye and Ladoja were later reinstated by the court.
In Rivers State PDP, the hand of Obasanjo was heavy on the governorship candidate, Rotimi Amaechi, who was elected by delegates. Obasanjo objectd to his candidature, saying that it had a k-leg.
In Imo State, Senator Ifeanyi Araraume suffered the same fate. Although he was elected as the governorship flag bearer, the former president disagreed, saying that he did not endorse him. The party lost to the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) candidate, Ikedi Ohakim.
Obasanjo successfully plotted the removal of former Senate President Chuba Okadigbo, who succeeded his ousted anointed candidate, Evan Enwerem.
When former Minister of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Olusegun Mimiko defected from the PDP to the Labour Party (LP) to contest the governorship election in Ondo State, Obasanjo threatened him with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which was largely a tool for the oppression, witch-hunting and intimidation of opponents.
Although it is now convenient for the former president to pontificate on human rights, he failed to defend human liberty. The invasion of Odi and Zakin Biam was condemned by the international community.
In 2004, President Obasanjo withheld allocations to the local governments in Lagos State, following the creation of additional 37 councils.
In 2003, he orchestrated an electoral earthquake in the Southwest. Governors Adeniyi Adebayo (Ekiti), Lam Adesina (Oyo), Olusegun Osoba (Ogun) and Adebayo Adefarati (Ondo) were ‘rigged’ out. Only Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of Lagos State survived the electoral terrorism.
Although Obasanjo secured a second term, it is instructive to note that at the Supreme Court, where the final verdict was given on the 2003 presidential poll, there was a dissention among the judges. Some jurists were not convinced that he defeated his challenger, Buhari of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP), at the poll.
In 2006/2007, Obasanjo foisted on the ruling party a personal succession agenda. Presidential aspirants, including Dr.Odili, Donald Duke, Ahmed Makarfi, and Adamu Abdullahi were edged out of the selection process. His anointed candidate, the late Umaru Yar’Adua, was imposed on the party.
In 2007, INEC, led by Prof. Maurice Iwu, was operating from Obasanjo’s armpit. Losers were declared as winners during the governorship polls. PDP candidates were beneficiaries. The mandates were restored in the court.
Affected states included Anambra, Edo, Ondo, Osun, and Ekiti. That rigging is responsible for the scattered governorship polls in the country today. Indeed, former President Yar’Adua acknowledged that the poll that brought him to power was severely flawed.
Although Obasanjo has now become an emergency advocate of judicial independence, he demonstrated a lack of respect for court orders. Emergency holidays were even declared to frustrate the move by courts to deliver their judgments on sensitive cases.
The history of Nigeria is incomplete without a mention of Obasanjo. At critical moments in the life of the country, fate had thrown him up for meaningful intervention. Power often landed on his palm, not because of hard work, but through sheer fate.
Obasanjo was the General Officer Commanding, Third Marine Commando, when his juniors, including Lieutenant General Alani Akinrinade (rtd) and Brigadier Alani Isama, brought the rebels to their knees.
He craved for political relevance as a military officer. The agitation for political power resulted into the pressure on former military Head of State General Yakubu Gowon to make him Minister of Works and the late General Muritala Mohammed Minister of Communications.
In 1979, Obasanjo made history again. He supervised the self-liquidation of acquired power, thereby emerging as the first military Head of State to relinquish power to civilians. Since then, he has constituted himself as the lone evaluator of the polity.
At home, Obasanjo became a critical moral voice of sorts. Besides, he played a role in international community. He was dispatched to troubled spots across the globe to solve problems of civil/military relations. He became the curator of democratic projects in Africa.
Twenty years after leaving power, he bounced back as a civilian president in 1999. When he was re-elected in 2003, Obasanjo became the longest serving Nigerian leader; first as military Head of State for three years and later, as the civilian ruler for eight years.
However, many observers believed that he had lost the steam by 2007 when he handed over power to Yar’Adua. The major sin of Obasanjo was the flawed general election. When he left the stage in 1979, the ovation was loud. Expectations were high when he made a dramatic return in 1999. However, as from 2003, his records mocked his antecedent.
Outside power, he had embraced the pastime of attacking other leaders, some of who had made greater contributions to development. Today, some of these leaders are celebrated by Nigerians more than him.
Obasanjo had mocked the indomitable Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first Premier of Western Region, for not becoming the president of Nigeria. In his book: ‘Not My Will,’ he described the late Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe as a leader who fell from his pre-eminent national position, only to carry on with life in his old age as a tribal chieftaincy holder, the Owelle of Onitsha.
In his view, the late Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim was an unserious politician. Aminu Kano was a placard-carrying protester. Former President Shehu Shagari could not distinguish his left from right. Buhari and his former deputy, the late Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon, were autocratic military rulers. Former military President Ibrahim Babangida’s adjustment lacked human face, human heart and milk of human kindness.
Yet, when Babangida tinkered with the elongated transition timetable, Obasanjo suggested the Interim National Government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan. He said the option was regrettable but understandable. The suggestion nailed the coffin of “June 12”.
Of course, Obasanjo said the winner of the historic presidential poll, the late Chief Moshood Abiola, was not the messiah.
In later years, he pounced on Atiku, saying that God would not forgive him, if he supports his bid for president.
Had he laid a solid foundation when he bounced back, his successors would have built on it. Nigerians had high hopes. His commonwealth leaders welcomed him back to power with optimism. Former United States President Jimmy Carter hailed his re-emergence.
He said judging by his leadership qualities, he would justify the trust of a model of transparency and leadership committed to higher ideals. It was a wasted expectation.
In eight years, Obasanjo could not fight the infrastructure battle adequately. He left behind a prostrate nation, agonising over lack of electricity, good roads, good hospitals and good schools. To his Southwest kinsmen, the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway remained an eyesore. It is now being fixed by President Buhari.
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Ahead of 2007, the sanctity of the ballot box was not his priority. Many Nigerians doubted his commitment to the election in the first instance on the account of the third term project, which was knocked out by credible politicians and the media.
As the election drew nearer, there was confusion. Court orders were disobeyed. Obasanjo shocked the anxious nation when he said the contest would be a do-or-die affair. Hell was let loose on poll day. The election paled into a bitter war.
Domestic and foreign monitors said it was the worst in the history of the country.
Evidence of multiple thumb printing, snatching of ballot boxes, omission of photographs and logos of opposition candidates and parties, ballot hijack, thuggery and violence starred the tribunals and courts in the face. Before he left, it was impossible for him to right the wrongs.
Can OBJ, as he is fondly called, now be an advocate of free, fair and credible polls? His credentials suggest he cannot be trusted with such an onerous task!
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