By Rotimi Fasan
WHAT’S left of their relationship when a political son takes on his father in public and tries to show he is not what he claims to be after all? Wahala! That appears to me to be the direction things are going with President Goodluck Jonathan’s criticism of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s handling of the Odi and Zaki Biam episodes in the early months of the latter’s administration.
Nigerians will recall OBJ’s put-down of the Jonathan government’s weak and inept response to the activities of the faceless terrorist group operating in the North as the reason the terrorist group has remained impregnable in its areas of operation.
The statement came in Warri at an event marking the fortieth year calling to pastoral ministry of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.
Oritsejafor who is President of the Christian Association of Nigeria has himself come under criticism of late for joining the exclusive league, not just of pastors but Nigerians who own private jets.
With the floodgate of used cars wide open into the country every Nigerian who gets on the road with whatever brand of the foreign jalopies that ply our roads consider themselves a success story.
It’s becoming truly difficult to tell the local pretenders to the crown of success apart from the real inheritors of Solomon’s splendour. Possessing a private jet may be the new way of separating birds from mere butterflies.
But it was at the ceremonies marking Pastor Oritsejafor’s call to God’s work that Obasanjo took on his boy, our President, Jonathan. Jonathan probably smarting from the put-down of his former boss and political godfather and benefactor didn’t have long to wait. He found his chance to reply during the president chat he had just days after the Warri event.
The presidential media chat, as an opportunity for the President to speak on issues directly affecting Nigerians who can call directly into the programme, is a tradition begun by Obasanjo, which might suggest President Jonathan still works under Obasanjo’s shadow, contrary to what his response to the former president’s statement might suggest.
Obasanjo’s claim was that failure to respond, immediately and decisively, allowing the sore of the insurgents’ activities to fester gave the cowardly groups the initiative to power on and take control of the situation of things.
Obasanjo compared Jonathan’s response to his own response during the Odi and Zaki Biam incidents when so-called militants waylaid and killed security personnel sent to keep peace in the two towns.
Obasanjo then had insisted on the community concerned producing his soldiers. When this didn’t happen, he sent in troops who levelled the towns. What actually transpired is now the stuff of legends which cannot be fully verified.
But what many remember about those episodes was the heavy-handed response of the soldiers who went to take control of security in the towns. What needs to be factored into the action of the soldiers that went to theses places then was raw anger on their part and what they must have thought was their duty to avenge the brutal murder of their colleagues who were literally butchered and their bodies put on display in the fashion of a ram meant for ritual sacrifice.
Human rights groups have since condemned the response of the authorities as being excessively harsh.
But what cannot be denied is that the military response was very decisive in showing who was in control- government or the so-called militants. In addition, nobody can accuse Obasanjo of vacillation. He was focussed once he decided on what step to take.
That is more than one can say for President Jonathan when the terrorists in the North regrouped and began their campaign of anarchy about two years ago. What was obvious to everyone then was the feeble, even confused, response ofAbuja.
In spite of suggestions in the media that the President should take action, he remained indecisive. He lacked the will to take the steps that he ought to take- in short he failed to seize the moment and thereby lost momentum to the terrorists. This, for me, is the point Obasanjo was making with his latest comment.
Of course, at the resurgence of the terrorists’ campaign, President Jonathan had just survived the gruelling months of hanging in limbo, time when some people tried to deny him his rightful position as president following the passing of President Yar’Adua.
Shortly after, he won an election that was disputed by Muhammadu Buhari whose supporters went on rampage in different parts of the North.
Clearly, Jonathan was under siege and it was understandable why he didn’t act with the clear-headedness that the times called for, especially against a major opposition that appear to rely on regional support.
However, he lingered too long on his fear. He remained weak and tentative even after he had been re-elected. Nearly two years after the election that brought him to power, Jonathan continues to act like when he was Deputy Governor in Bayelsa.
And in his response to Obasanjo’s criticism, he said the Odi and Zaki-Biam episodes marked low point in governance- government failed in achieving its purpose. Jonathan claimed he saw the corpses of children and old women, not militants when he visited the sacked town.
But does this explain why Jonathan has been blowing hot and cold as to what to do to address terrorist activities in the North? One moment he talks about government’s readiness to talk with the terrorists and the next moment he realises that the terrorists are in fact faceless.
Of course, I see no point in talking to faceless groups of mindless murderers and anarchists without any coherent agenda. Any talk with one today and another criminal group rises tomorrow to claim it’s the authentic faction that needs to be appeased. There is no harm in dialogue but with whom would government hold such talk in the case of the terrorists in the North?
In the recent encounter between HAMAS and the Israelis, there was no doubt about who to hold the talk that brought about the ceasefire with. Who wouldAbujabe talking to here?
As for Jonathan sending Obasanjo a backhander, one hopes he is really ready to be his own man. One law of power says a protégé must try not to outshine the master. I think that applies to a protégé who knows where he is headed.
But for one who blows in the direction of the wind, it may be too early to confront his benefactor. Jonathan has not acted with purpose on the security situation in the North and other parts.
When criticised as Obasanjo just did, the least he could do is to make it openly clear that he is open to suggestions that would help him. Trying to sound clever will not help his case.