by Olusegun Adeniyi
Therefore, whether or not he responds to Obasanjo’s ill-tempered letter is no longer of any relevance. What I believe is important now is for him to begin to do the needful things that will help him regain his moral authority. That way, he can also begin to rebuild the trust of the Nigerian people.
In the last one week, Nigerians have been talking about a certain letter written to President Goodluck Jonathan by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and there is hardly anybody who is neutral on the issue. That is expected. Aside having ruled the country twice (both as a military man and as a civilian), Obasanjo commands considerable international clout. If such a man says the current president of his country is hiring killers just to stay in office and that corruption has reached the level of impunity, one can only imagine the kind of damaging reports ambassadors in Nigeria have been sending to their home countries in the last couple of days.
However, what I find difficult to understand is why President Jonathan allowed Obasanjo to get him so cheap. The former president hinted very clearly, even from the first line, that what he was sending was not a personal letter but a front-page column in newspapers. In that case, what I expected was for the president to have crafted his own immediate (but equally brutal) response and then get his office to leak the two to the media at the same time. By allowing Obasanjo to out-snooker him, the president has lost the advantage and any response he gives now can only be deemed as an afterthought.
Notwithstanding, Obasanjo’s letter is a very serious matter and it should be so treated, especially now that he has published it into a booklet and he is circulating autographed copies. While the letter has been generally well-received because most people would rather deal with the message and not the messenger, any honest interrogation of the contents must begin from the motive. Why did Obasanjo write the letter? The answer is simple: He wrote it to exact some revenge from an “ungrateful” benefactor. That explains why he began by stating: “Mr President, you have on a number of occasions acknowledged the role God enabled me to play in your ascension to power. You mentioned me third after God and your parents among those that have impacted most on your life.” Anybody with a little intelligence would know that what Obasanjo was saying in effect to President Jonathan is: “Let me remind you, in case you have forgotten, you got to your present position by virtue of my sleight of hand”.
It is indeed instructive that some of the personal injuries that inform Obasanjo’s current angst are well highlighted in his letter. From the charge that the president had been ignoring his letters to the provocations of some Ijaw irredentists and professional touts who have access to the villa, Obasanjo laid the issues very bare. There is also sufficient hint in the letter to indicate he feels unhappy by the way the “apple of his eyes”, Senator Andy Uba, was edged out of the Anambra State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governorship ticket.
While Obasanjo may have listed several other infractions against President Jonathan, what he considers perhaps the most egregious is the handing over of the PDP structure in Ogun State to one Buruji Kashamu—a man who had been running a vicious media campaign against the former president. And since Obasanjo is like the Greek tycoon in Sidney Sheldon’s bestseller, “The Other Side of the Midnight”, who never forgets an insult nor forgives an injury, the Buruji guy won’t recover easily from the deadly blow dealt him by the former president!
What the foregoing says very clearly is that nobody should be under any illusion that Obasanjo wrote Jonathan that stinker out of any sense of patriotism. No, the letter–which diminishes the writer as much as it damages the receiver–remains ill-motivated and patently self-serving. Most of the accusations therein are also based on innuendoes and hear-says and merit any credence only because they are coming from Obasanjo and the fact that President Jonathan has in recent time lost considerable public goodwill.
One reason why the letter seems very popular among the political elite is the position taken by Obasanjo regarding the 2015 presidential elections, especially as it pertains to the PDP zoning formula. Even though the president has not publicly declared that he will be seeking re-election, one of the prayer points in the Aso Rock Chapel “Prayer Guide” for the month of December is already a give-away. It implores the congregation to “pray that the crises rocking the ruling party, the PDP will not mar the party’s chances of victory in the 2015 general elections to enable the present administration to continue the transformation agenda—Zechariah 4: 9.”
While the Biblical passage under reference says “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it”, Obasanjo is determined to ensure that the hands of a Northern “Zerubabbel”, rather than that of an Ijaw one, would fulfil that Aso Rock prophecy. But the desperate power struggle over 2015 is an issue we will have to come back to engage another day.
However, the bit that is most damaging in Obasanjo’s letter is not even the issue of presidential zoning or the “1000 snipers” tale but rather the inference to President Jonathan’s lukewarm disposition to issues of accountability and transparency; because he only re-echoed what most people have been saying. While perception may be different from reality, when it comes to corruption, what is often measured is what the people believe with respect to the management of public resources and that is one area in which this administration has been failing rather spectacularly. Most Nigerians today believe that the Jonathan administration is not committed to the fight against corruption and that feeling is not helped by the EFCC statement on Monday that it has been so starved of operational funds that it cannot even boast of N2 million in its account! How can such a commission fight corruption?
From the stubborn refusal of the president to publicly declare his assets to the multi-billion Naira Pension fraud involving a well-connected middle-level civil servant, AbdulRasheed Maina (who has conveniently vanished from public radar) to the monumental fuel subsidy scam in the oil and gas sector and the vehicle purchase scandal in the aviation ministry, the presidential formula for handling corruption cases has been to set up some cynical committees and then do nothing. Yet what those unresolved cases, as well as others that are in the public domain, have done is to eat away the credibility of the administration. That explains why Obasanjo, who has an incredible capacity for mischief, would make this kind of insinuation: “as far as the issue of corruption, security and oil stealing is concerned, it is only apt to say that when the guard becomes the thief, nothing is safe, secure nor protected in the house.”
In the private discussions I have held with some of the aides to President Jonathan, I always told them that the intangibles that the president ignores are actually what would determine his place in history. Yes, it is commendable to concentrate on making improvements in the critical sectors of the economy. But in the world that we live in today, leaders are judged more by their commitment to certain ideals than the number of roads or hospitals they build. Put simply, when it comes to leadership, integrity matters.
While someone suggested yesterday that some of the people we call leaders in our country are no better than characters fit only for Jerry Springer’s show where shamelessness is the order of the day, it is also a fact that Nigerians love entertainment so much. That perhaps explains all the attention that has been devoted to Obasanjo’s letter at a time we were buffeted by serious challenges on virtually all fronts—including the chilling revelations by INEC that Boko Haram may have already carved out a republic for itself in a section of our country.
Given the foregoing, President Jonathan already has his job cut out for him. Therefore, whether or not he responds to Obasanjo’s ill-tempered letter is no longer of any relevance. What I believe is important now is for him to begin to do the needful things that will help him regain his moral authority. That way, he can also begin to rebuild the trust of the Nigerian people. If he doesn’t do that, all the “Zerubabbel” prayer sessions at the Aso Rock chapel will amount to nothing but vain babblings when the chips are down.
This post is published with permission from Olusegun Adeniyi
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.