by Bayo Olopohunda
“Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones”
“When you point a finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you”
It is no longer news. The relationship between former president Olusegun Obasanjo, and his political godson, the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan has finally hit the rocks. The “father” and “son” bond that had held the two political players together in the last few years had reached a breaking point. It hit an all time low recently and finally snapped with the godfather’s open and scathing criticism of President Jonathan’s administration and leadership style. That an acrimonious epilogue would eventually signal a denouement of a pact fated to end in tragedy is nothing unusual; in politics, especially in our country, coalitions and friendship among politicians are not always scripted to your storybook, fairytale, happy ever-after ending. This democracy is replete with tales of political alliances that have gone sour as soon as they began.
The saying that in politics “no permanent friends or enemies but permanent interests” can best describe the cat and mouse liaisons that have often defined association among politicians. Examples abound of godsons who had turned the tables against their godfathers. Nigerians have lost count of governors and their deputies who had become sworn enemies. We had seen bitter rivalry between a president and his deputy culminating in the latter being arbitrarily stripped of his constitutional duties by his overbearing principal. Deputy Governors have been locked out of their offices or official quarters. In some cases, politicians have come short of exchanging blows to settle differences. That is one of the many absurdities of this democracy.
In Nigeria, political unions are not built to last. Trust, which is a desirable quality in other climes, is a virtue of the naive. Politicians often put their heart where their mouth is. But the former president had it coming. If he had expected that the union between him and President Jonathan would remain the one of the strict headmaster and his submissive pupil, it is either he over-estimated the sense of his own worth years after leaving office; has no sense of history; or that he has lost touch with the intrigues of power play in his party too soon. The signs of a strained relationship broke out in the open with Obasanjo’s open criticism of the incumbent’s handling of the Boko Haram crisis. He went short of calling the President weak in the face of rampaging Islamists who are poised to ensure that Nigeria becomes another Somalia. He reminisced on his controversial handling of similar threats to national security during his time as president. The invasion of Odi in Bayelsa and Zaki Biam in Benue states where entire villages were left in ruins when the former president used maximum force to suppress insurgencies by militants stand out.
The former president had also lampooned President Jonathan’s fight against corruption. He lamented what he called a lacklustre approach to the scourge by this government. Obasanjo also took a swipe at his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, which he said lacked the discipline of a ruling party. Of all the criticisms levelled against President Jonathan by his former mentor, it was his warning of a revolution that has hit close to home. The former president had responded to the frightening rate of unemployment among Nigerian youths as a possible trigger for a revolution in the country.
In fairness to the President, since Obasanjo began an open criticism of his government, he has refrained from engaging him in an open verbal war. To underscore his determination not to engage the former president publicly, he reportedly threatened to sack any of his aides who is found to “abuse” Obasanjo. Perhaps, President Jonathan’s refusal to engage Obasanjo is borne out of the recognition of the role he played in his “grass to grace” emergence as Nigeria’s number one citizen. The former President and the incumbent path crossed in 2006. Obasanjo was on his way out after a two-term Presidency. The outgoing president was shopping for a possible replacement among the politicians who showed interest in succeeding him. Then came the December 2006 National Convention of the PDP; the late President Umaru Yar’Adua had just emerged as the party’s presidential candidate, flooring the likes of Peter Odili, Jerry Gana and host of other big names. Obasanjo, had through the instrument of state, cowed those who wanted to run against his preferred candidates, and somehow, railroaded the convention into electing Yar’Adua. Jonathan, with Obasanjo’s backing, emerged as Yar’Adua’s running mate. The former president also stood his ground in the 2011 general elections. Against a massive Northern opposition, he insisted that Jonathan would fly the flag of the party for the election. The emergence of Jonathan caused massive uproar in the North. Such is the benefactor role of Obasanjo in the political life of Jonathan.
Therefore, if the President has not engaged Obasanjo in an open confrontation, it is because he recognises the role the former has played in his fairytale political trajectory. But the President’s first reaction to Obasanjo’s criticism of his administration came in his media chat recently. He condemned the invasion of Odi and Zaki Biam by Obasanjo. Many have also alleged to a surreptitious move by the Presidency to fight back and weaken Obasanjo’s hold on the President. This move began with the alleged shoving off of Obasanjo as the chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees. The feud between the two political heavyweights has also been allegedly linked to the politics of 2015.
But let’s even for once look beyond the motives and political undertones of the dispute between these two men. An assessment of the merits and demerits of the tenures of both leaders will throw up some differences and similarities. Is Obasanjo’s criticism of Jonathan justified? There is no denying the fact that this administration has largely been a failure especially in areas such as the fight against corruption, the rising debt profile, the sickening culture of waste in government circles, insecurity, decaying infrastructure, power and rising poverty rate. But did Obasanjo fare any better in his time? President Jonathan can at least be credited with providing a level-playing field in ensuring free and fair elections so far. Obasanjo as leader trampled on the rule of law and practised a “do-or-die” brand of politics that violently rigged elections. Was the PDP more disciplined under Obasanjo? The former president did however score fair points in his fight against corruption. But many have also blamed him for using the anti-corruption agency to settle personal scores. One fact remains, Obasanjo’s eight years was largely a disappointment. Just like Jonathan, he had the goodwill and resources to radically transform the country but he sadly lost the opportunity; he failed to envision his place in history and acted as if there was no tomorrow. The former president should also be blamed for the lack of leadership and stagnation that began in 2007. Out of an egotistical agenda and the quest to preserve his own self-seeking legacy, he imposed on the country a reign of lacklustre and inept leaders who have ensured that our country will never rise above the mediocrity of the administrations he helped install.
Rather than engage in self-seeking rhetoric with the incumbent, Obasanjo should apologise to Nigerians for the inglorious role he played in our current predicament.
*This piece was first published in The Punch