By Ibrahim H. Suleiman
For his first tenure as a civilian president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was elected into office in 1999. This was after gaining his freedom from incarceration following the death of General Sani Abacha in June, 1998 and the short transition exercise overseen by retired General Abdulsalami Abubakar from June 1998 to May 1999.
Indeed, many observers point out that Obasanjo’s tenures in power both as a military head of state (1976 – 1979) and a civilian president (1999 – 2007) for a total of over eleven years have made him to exude so much arrogance as the only Nigerian leader that got everything all right. This has made him to assume the mantle of a messiah and all his predecessors must emulate him or face the wrath through his regime change campaigns of calumny via the open letters. Apparently, he has avoided descending on his superior – former head of state retired General Gowon, who was there before him and whose administration was equally accused of ineptitude and rampant corruption; he equally avoided descending on retired General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who handed over power peacefully to him in 1999.
In contrast, as far back as the 1980’s Gowon, after his ouster from power was able to focus on peace initiatives and other humanitarian ventures as part of his contribution as a leader who benefitted a lot from the bounteous spoils during his long reign as a benevolent (if not violent) dictator. He was involved with the Guinea Warm Eradication and the HIV/AIDS Programmes, both of which with the Global Fund of Geneva. In 1992 Gowon however founded his own known as Yakubu Gowon Centre which was responsible for tackling issues of good governance, controlling infectious diseases such as guinea warm, malaria and of course HIV/AIDS in the country. All these activities eventually earned Gowon a World Peace Prize Top Honour, awarded by World Peace Prize Awarding Council for maintaining national stability, promoting economic growth and organising a symbolic peace conference in the African region. Gowon has remained a real statesman true to his war time slogan: To keep Nigeria One is a Task that must be done.
Meanwhile, Obasanjo, since leaving the presidential villa in 2007, has constituted himself into a serial open letter-writer in which he took solace in criticising his successors even as he did not perform any better during his own tenure. Undoubtedly, Obasanjo’s open letters have been from the onset politically motivated. He criticised late President Shehu Shagari’s government for its rampant corruption and the president’s lack of control of affairs in the country. Although Obasanjo had been a military dictator, he found it pertinent to dabble into the civilian democratic politics again not without interest in grabbing the opportunity to head another government. It was the beginning of his open letters targeted at succeeding presidents and heads of state in the country. Of course his stock in trade led him to being thrown into prison wherein he was incarcerated for life by the late General Sani Abacha.
By this time Obasanjo had carved a niche for himself as top-class presidential critic. Perhaps, that must have influenced his being called upon by stakeholders to assume the leadership of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP as its presidential flag-bearer in 1999. The northern oligarchy gave him maximum support as a compensation for the nullification of the 1993 presidential election that Chief MKO Abiola, his Egba folk, was acknowledged to have won.
Since becoming the country’s second democratically elected president, Obasanjo has continued to exert his influence in the political arena with a mixture of his military, regimental discipline and perks of civil rule that critics dubbed as diarchy. In fact at the close of his second term as president, Obasanjo tried hard to twist the arms of the National Assembly leadership to accept his third term project by changing the constitutional provision to that effect. He met with stern opposition from even his closest allies, including the then Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
Thus, Obasanjo’s open letters have become popular traits of his trade mark. Through these letters the world can now learn a lot about who the man is, what he wants and what he is up to. Up until his first open letter to PMB in January 2018, when he called on the president not to stand election for the second term, it was generally believed that Obasanjo’s open letters usually serve as precursor to the fall of the government under attack. It happened in 1983 when he wrote against the government of Shehu Shagari and after a few months it was overthrown; it was the same story in 2015 when Dr Jonathan’s administration was eventually defeated at the polls by an opposition party.
Hence, when Obasanjo struck with his first letter on Buhari, analysts felt that it was the beginning of the end of the president’s administration. So far this has not been as predicted. The president has gone ahead to win electiom with a wider margin than in 2015. Having failed in his bid to stop PMB from running and winning election for a second term, Obasanjo launched his anti-Buhari campaign by linking the APC-led administration with alleged complicity towards Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria. This led to the second open letter to Buhari in which he alleged total breakdown of law wnd order and the president’s incompetence or unwillingness to act decisively against the perpetrators of violence across the country.
However, PMB has proved his adversaries wrong. The president has since gone ahead to come up with a formidable cabinet that would marshal out plans for the success of the Next Level. Perhaps, finally Obasanjo has met someone who has succeeded in demystifying him. Popularity rating of PMB has soared while many more people are gradually grasping the truth behind Obasanjo’s antics. But, certainly, this has not been enough to dissuade the Egba chief as he proved that in his second letter. Apologists have suggested nevertheless that what Obasanjo writes in his open letters and what he is as a person are two different things that should not be misconstrued.
At any rate, the question many observers are still asking is: what is the man now up to? Many answers have been given by various individuals which centre on the psychological perspective of the retired general. Some observers have pointed out that Obasanjo’s letters against PMB are part of his conspiracy campaign geared towards destabilising the nation and undermining the president. For many others the retired general simply can’t stomach the thought of having someone, much less his inferior officer equalling the record he set for having been both a military head of state and a democratically-elected president who ruled for two terms. In fact, it was suggested that Obasanjo’s last open letter to PMB has no other motive than envy and the bitterness that at last he has been nicked, and we are now faced with a rather puzzling denouement.
By Ibrahim H. Suleiman