Opinion: Did President Jonathan respond to Obasanjo’s letter properly?

by Bisi Lawrence


What Obasanjo wrote could hardly have been more inflammatory from the pen of a former President of the country, and it may be indeed, sensible to be wary about one’s reaction. But the stakes are high, and a more robust reaction from the President would only probably have served to put a lot of the issues in due perspective.

President Goodluck Jonathan’s reply to Chief Obasanjo’s celebrated letter left me nonplussed. I wondered if I was reading an abridged form. I expected a response enlivened by some pungent statement of repudiation and counter-accusation, laced with some vitriolic flavour. Perhaps it was far removed from the influence of one or two of his well-known aides who shall be nameless here. Their input, which would’” naturally be of an acerbic nature as usual, could have generated some heat but also added a bit of feeling to the reply.

But many people feel it was satisfactory. Of course, one would not have expected the erstwhile fiery Amazon of Ijaw awareness, Ms Annikio Briggs, to find any flaw in the President’s position. She saw the response as “dignified”. I viewed it as almost timorous. Most of her reaction was directed at the opposition to the President from the APC with whom Obasanjo recently identified himself, even though still a card-carrying member of the PDP.

My good friend, Guy Ikokwu, one of the founders of the PDP and a notable football administrator in his youthful days, also thought the President’s replay was “timely”. But it seemed to me almost belated. He believed we should thank Jonathan for responding to the former President’s “vituperations and unstatesmanlike public declarations on security and delicate matters “in a very cautious manner”” which would not escalate the tension of the present fragile democratic structure the country is saddled with.

As for Ayo Opadok:un, who was one of my favourite commentators on national issues, he contended that Jonathan “substantially” tackled all the issues that Obasanjo raised. He also declared “a pox on both their houses” as he pointed out the obvious truth of both the former President and the incumbent merely maneuvering to get control of the destiny and commonwealth of the Nigerian people”. I dare say the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which Opadokun was very much associated with, was not very distant from such inclinations either.

I would also not wish to join issues with him on the maxim, “the medium is the message”, in the way in which he seemed to have reduced the meaning of the medium in that context to denote the “messenger”. A more fundamental connotation would, in fact, relate more to the manner or means of the delivery, as distinct from the deliverer.

The highly articulate social critic, and highly regarded constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay, seemed to adopt the stance of the parent of two dissident children. His sensitivities seemed to have been slightly bruised by the awful implications of the entire drama which had drawn out aspects that both parties had denied or condemned, to the extent that he would rather not be involved in the rights and wrongs as they have been spread out. His reaction could be summarised by a famous quote from the Holy Book: “Go thou and sin no more.”

What is emerging gradually, but steadily, in my own estimate, is that too many people are awed by the threat of “heating up the polity” that is hung over several issues these days. That sentiment seemed to have bent opinions in favour of the reactions of several so-called “peaceloving” people who, like the President of the Aka-Ikenga, the Igbo intellectual think-tank group, would rather “leave Jonathan alone to govern the country”, and not put distractions in his way.

What Obasanjo wrote could hardly have been more inflammatory from the pen of a former President of the country, and it may be indeed, sensible to be wary about one’s reaction. But the stakes are high, and a more robust reaction from the President would only probably have served to put a lot of the issues in due perspective.

In fact, that approximates the position of the former Governor of Kaduna State, Musa Balarabe. He did not mince words about his disaffection for the writing of the public letter with regard to every point raised, but he clearly stated that it would have been far worse if Obasanjo had kept everything under wraps. It is not surprising however that an organization like the Northern Elders Forum would find the President’s reply to Obasanjo “pedestrian”, and I am not saying that it is not. But the fundamental stance of the group’s position about the presidency has cast a cloud of bias on almost everything they say concerning Jonathan.

Without a doubt, the most respectable views about the president’s response to the controversy raised by the letter have been from Mr. Femi Falana, SAN. He bluntly stated that President Jonathan did not address the key issues. He referred to some areas which he described as treated in a “woolly” manner. He specified some of those areas, especially those that deal with corruption, and the slack response to its confrontation from government, as evidenced in the incidents like the Harliburton, Wilbros and Siemens cases.

He expressed disapproval of the way in which the recent Stella Oduah’s bullet-proof cars’ scandalous purchase has been treated so far. In every direction, Falana spoke with incisiveness to affirm his point that President Jonathan badly “fluffed” it. It was all a lucid presentation, typical of the human rights activist and shining light of the Nigerian bar, fair and fearless, simple and straightforward.

But I must leave the last word with Mr Yinka Odumakin, reputed to be the spokesman of the so-called Pan-Yoruba “SOCIO-CULTURAL” organization, Afenifere. In a statement that falls short of being “woolly” itself, Odumakin welcomed the fact that President Jonathan had responded to the letter Obasanjo wrote to him, but went on to warm the cockles of my heart when he added, “Jonathan has denied the allegations of training snipers; it is now left for Obasanjo to substantiate this, so that Nigerians will not see him as a frivolous person. If he is able to substantiate it, it means there is trouble. But if he is not able to substantiate it, I think  there are appropriate laws to deal with such a person”.

Obasanjo has affirmed that he can substantiate all the claims he made in that letter. However, he says he has said the last word about it, having delivered it as a national duty. President Jonathan has also accounted the former President’s reticence with regard to evidence as inappropriate. But since the gentleman says he is no longer going to talk about it who, or what, can make him see that what he has rendered, far from being a service, is a disservice to the nation? Who has the will? Which laws can make him do the needful — if you will pardon my recall of that offensive phrase?

At the end, all the furore about such “letters which they are not supposed to write”, ( to borrow from a recent statement of the President’s at a church service), would only serve as no more than an additional distraction from the judicious pursuit of correcting several rampant indiscretions and misdemeanours, like the purchase of bullet-proof cars at humongous cost to the people of Nigeria. We shall hardly remember all this at the turn of the year.

Happy new year?

Just a word about how loosely the people of Lagos treat themselves shamelessly with the neglect of their traditions. The sheen and glossy finish that is spread over the island only covers an inner core of tradition which has protected and preserved some of the most cherished aspects of the people’s culture. That has always baffled the other professed “Lagosians” who are not able to penetrate the essence of what is Lagos.

It is all innate in the subtle nuances of the people’s way of speaking and of reacting to the daily pursuits of life, and intimately embedded in the philosophy to which a real “Omo Eko” responds in his behaviour. The untutored see it as arrogance or conceit, but the well-informed, the “clued-up”, know it as confidence in the pride of belonging to a sophisticated upbringing steeped in values of self-worth.

At the core of the dignity of this cultural consciousness is the Adamu-Orisa Cult. The only aspect that is exposed to the public about the cult is the display by the Eyo masquerade which is meant to be part of the funeral obsequies of very important personalities within the community. Unfortunately, however, the custom has been violated down the years, and the Eyo display has been staged for various reasons, and in conjunction with ceremonies that are far removed from what it is meant for. On such occasions, it would hardly have even been possible to perform some of the rites that should precede an Eyo outing. The most recent was the performance of an Eyo troupe at a particular purely political occasion.

It is not being civilized to desecrate the ancient traditions of a people, especially by the people themselves. Lagos definitely does not deserve this. Those who are in charge know what to do. Eko 0 ni baje o!

If anyone really wished to hurt Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the good man with whose patriotic services the Lord has blessed Ekitiland, the malevolent one would probably do away with someone known to be very close to him. Well, some people did that last Sunday. Sesan Ogunro was shot on his way back from church. A group of four seized the car, relieved him of some valuables, and then cut him down in cold blood, in the presence of his wife and children.

If you knew him even only casually, you would be near to tears at the cruel fate that overtook him. I knew him well. He was quite older than my children but I loved him like a son. I cannot write his obituary. I will not even read whatever is written as a tribute either, for he will never be dead to me.

And yet there is so much that could be recounted. Yes, let others do it. Those who can remember his toothy grin, or recall his passionate zeal in the pursuit of a worthy cause, or the gentle banter that he creates when he is in a teasing mood — let them do it, if they can, with a dry eye.

Those who committed this heinous crime may very well have a variety of other reasons. However, one thing they can a lay a good claim to: they know how to hurt other human beings. They have hurt so many: his wife and children and the rest of his family; they have hurt his co-professionals some of whom viewed him as a model; they have hurt his wide circle of friends, including me, who will for ever miss the warmth of his comradeship. And all that hurt will rise up and cry out for justice in this harsh land of crying shame.

Read this article in the Vanguard Newspapers
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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