But for Tuesday’s virulent letter from former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, to President Muhammadu Buhari, warning him not to contemplate seeking a re-election, 2019 would probably have been a smooth sail for Buhari.
This is not the first time Obasanjo would write or criticise sitting Nigeria’s leaders, since he left office first as military Head of State in 1979 and later as a civilian president in 2007. He criticised Alhaji Shehu Shagari, who took over from him. He also criticised Buhari as military Head of State.
Again, when the military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (retd), unleashed his Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) on Nigerians, Obasanjo was up in arms against him and his policies, urging IBB to give SAP a “human face.” When the late General Sani Abacha came on stage and was almost running Nigeria aground, Obasanjo was all out firing from all cylinders.
Unlike IBB however, Abacha could not tolerate Obasanjo’s criticisms and it did not take long before he was sent to the gulag on the allegations that he was plotting to overthrow the Abacha government. Abacha’s death changed the whole story and Obasanjo regained his freedom and went ahead to win election in 1999 as a democratically elected president.
After leaving office in 2007, he facilitated the election of late Umaru Yar’Adua. But midway into the administration, Yar’Adua took ill and a cabal led by his wife took over the affairs of governance. Obasanjo personally undertook a trip to see Yar’Adua on his sick bed in Germany, to ascertain his mental and physical capacity to continue in office.
Convinced his case was beyond redemption, Obasanjo chose the annual Daily Trust Dialogue of January 2010, to advise Yar’Adua to resign. He went further to declare that “if you take up an appointment, a job, elected or appointed whatever and then your health starts failing and you will not be able to deliver and satisfy yourself and satisfy the people you are supposed to serve. Then, there is a path of honour and a path of morality and if you don’t know that, then it means you don’t know anything. I will stop at that.”
Eventually Yar’Adua died later that year, and his second in command, Goodluck Jonathan stepped in. But in the run up to the 2011 election, there was groundswell of opposition against Jonathan, especially from the north, as the region insisted that it should be allowed to have a go at the presidency again.
Obasanjo again stepped in and resolve the issue in favour of Jonathan. He rallied support for Jonathan, same way he did for Yar’Adua. In the end, despite the religious and ethnic sentiments played up against Jonathan in the north, Obasanjo assembled his army of supporters in the north, led by Alhaji Sule Lamido (Jigawa), with support from Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto) and MurtalaNyako (Adamawa), all of whom were serving governors at the time, to lead Jonathan to victory against Buhari, with a wide margin of over ten thousand votes.
Before the election, Obasanjo had on the day Jonathan emerged as PDP’s candidate at the Eagle Square in Abuja, announced that Jonathan would be doing just a term. Meaning, he won’t be seeking a re-election.
But by 2012, Jonathan left no one in doubt that he was going to seek a re-election. By December 2013, Obasanjo took his pen and paper and wrote a 18-page letter to Jonathan, accusing him of decimating the PDP through his determination for a second term against earlier promise of serving one term. He wrote to Jonathan 14 months to the presidential contest, which was later shifted by six weeks.
Although Jonathan dared him, today Jonathan knows better. Obasanjo after defeating Buhari in 2003 and assisting two other candidates to defeat him in 2007 and 2011, he shifted support for Buhari in the run up to the 2015 contest, where Buhari after three previous failed attempts, emerged victorious.
Today, Obasanjo has written to Buhari too, warning him not to contemplate seeking a second term? Will Buhari dare him, same way Jonathan did?
Like he did to Jonathan, Obasanjo’s letter to Buhari also catalogued his misgivings of the Buhari’s government, accusing the president of nepotism, buck-passing and lacking knowledge of internal politics. His letter to Jonathan was 18 pages. The one to Buhari is also 18 pages.
According to Obasanjo, “the situation that made Nigerians to vote massively to get my brother Jonathan off the horse is playing itself out again. First, I thought I knew the point where President Buhari is weak and I spoke and wrote about it even before Nigerians voted for him and I also did vote for him because at that time it was a matter of ‘any option but Jonathan’ (aobj). But my letter to President Jonathan titled: ‘Before It Is Too Late’ was meant for him to act before it was too late.” He however noted that Jonathan ignored his advice.
He went further to say that “President Buhari needs a dignified and honourable dismount from the horse. He needs to have time to reflect, refurbish physically and recoup and after appropriate rest, once again, join the stock of Nigerian leaders whose experience, influence, wisdom and outreach can be deployed on the side line for the good of the country. His place in history is already assured. Without impaired health and strain of age, running the affairs of Nigeria is a 25/7 affair, not 24/7.
“I only appeal to brother Buhari to consider a deserved rest at this point in time and at this age. I continue to wish him robust health to enjoy his retirement from active public service. President Buhari does not necessarily need to heed my advice. But whether or not he heeds it, Nigeria needs to move on and move forward.”
Reading through Obasanjo’s letter to Buhari, there is hardly anything in that letter which some Nigerians, including prominent northerners have not said.
For instance, second republic lawmaker, Junaid Mohammed, was the first to publicly accused Buhari of nepotism in 2016. He followed it with a call on Nigerians to begin to look for an alternative ahead of 2019, insisting most of the men around Buhari’s inner caucus are “rogues and thieves.”
Only Tuesday, in an exclusive story published by Daily Sun, chieftains of the party, all of whom are northerners and who are either serving ministers or national party executives revealed that majority of Buhari’s aides, especially some of the ministers who have no “political base” are misinforming the president about happenings around him, insisting that the same pattern that led to former president Goodluck Jonathan’s fall, appeared to be rearing its head around Buhari.
They went further to say that “Jonathan was looking at election, he did nothing to reconcile with key leaders of the party who later became his albatross and who eventually plotted his fall. I can see the same pattern emerging. But I pray Buhari does not end up like Jonathan.”
Obasanjo’s latest outburst would certainly change the direction of things in the polity. But Buhari, like Jonathan can choose to ignore him and go the whole haul. The fact however remains that none of those who calls the shots on Buhari’s behalf has any political value, as none of them can deliver their wards, yet they get heavy patronage from the government.
This fact was reinforced by Mohammed, in the story published by Daily Sun on Tuesday when he said “the tragedy of the president’s second term bid is that there is no politician of consequence from the either the North or South-West who is around him and who could reach out on his own to the leaders in the South-West and even in the North to canvass for support.”
So far, since 1999 to date, the only political battle Obasanjo has ever lost was his attempt to seek a third term; otherwise he has successfully prosecuted and won convincingly all political battles, especially presidential contest since 2007 after leaving office. Will 2019 be different? It seems only time will tell.
For now however, Buhari and his team would have to return to the drawing board. And the team’s handling of Obasanjo’s letter would go a long way to make or mar the president’s chances in next year’s elections.