- How both leaders can resolve their differences!
- The landmines ahead for president
By Jide Ajani
In the interest of peace, stability and national security, it would, perhaps, be interesting to have a throwback to the United States of America’s July 11, 1804, when a former Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and a sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr, engaged in a gun duel to settle their political differences. Just as former President Matthew Okikiolakan Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo wrote an open letter to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan accusing him of sundry charges, so did Hamilton launch assault on Burr through a letter, defaming the latter; manipulated the House of Representatives to vote Thomas Jefferson as president over Burr.
And at a time in America when some states in the north were outlawing gun duel, both men took to the Heights of Weehawken in New Jersey, a popular dueling ground. Burr mortally wounded Hamilton who died the following day. In today’s Nigeria, the contest for the presidency in 2015 has pitched a sitting President Jonathan, who is constitutionally guaranteed to seek re-election, against some members and leaders of his Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who insist that he should not run.
It all came to a head, penultimate week, with an open letter to Jonathan by Obasanjo – the animosity between Hamilton and Burr also came to a head because of the former’s derogatory remarks about the latter. Hamilton and Burr settled their matter via a gun duel. Would it not be nice if Obasanjo and Jonathan settle their problem via a gun duel? No matter. The problems confronting Nigeria today go beyond the visceral outburst of two leaders.
The two men can resolve their problems if they allow good sense to prevail. Just as was suggested on these pages in 2005 when Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar were at each other’s throat, the continued animosity between Jonathan and his mentor would lead both men to ends with unintended consequences. Therefore, to save their party and whatever is left of their political life, they must learn to bury the hatchet and relate with one another as they did when they started their romance.
However, for President Jonathan, there are landmines ahead. Some have been placed there by his detractors while he is also responsible for laying some.
Would it not be better for the former president and his protégé to settle their problems now, even if it means employing the instrumentality of a gun duel, cool off rather than suffer the consequences ahead for both men and the polity if they continue on this path of attrition.
IN THE BEGINNING
That Sunday evening after the presidential contest of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, then President Olusegun Obasanjo summoned Goodluck Jonathan to Aso Rock Presidential Villa. It was to inform him of his choice as running mate to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the party’s candidate who emerged earlier in the morning. Jonathan did not see it coming. Just before the contest, Obasanjo had invited Rivers governor, Dr. Peter Odili, to the Villa for breakfast and morning prayers.
After the prayers, Obasanjo compelled Odili to drop his presidential ambition insisting he pays a visit to Yar’Adua. Odili obliged. At Eagle Square where the contest held, the initial arrangement was that Odili would be picked as running mate to Yar’Adua whose path had been cleared by Obasanjo – it needs mentioning here that all these, after bruising heads and breaking limbs in the process. But Odili again became a victim of highwire, dirty manipulation
Therefore, that evening when Obasanjo summoned Jonathan, it was to inform him that he would be the running mate to Yar’Adua. Mind you, Obasanjo had, in mid-February 1999, defied his party by unilaterally picking Atiku Abubakar as his own running mate while consultations were still on. Therefore, picking Jonathan was not new.
What was, however, new, was that Obasanjo wanted Jonathan to be a ‘Yes Man’.
Revelations since after the ailment of Yar’Adua got worse in 2009 and, which led to his death, suggest that Obasanjo foresaw a situation whereby Jonathan would finish the tenure of Yar’Adua, contrary to Obasanjo’s repeated denial that he deliberately foisted an ‘invalid on the nation as president’.
For Jonathan, who, initially in the third quarter of 2005, neither believed that he would become Bayelsa State governor, nor, in January 2007, conceived of the possibility of becoming Nigeria’s vice president and then president, he still appears overwhelmed by the reality of leading a very complex and complicated country like Nigeria. Between the two leaders, something gave at some point.
Sunday Vanguard had reported in March that Obasanjo was already revving up his campaign against Jonathan’s second term bid by holding series of meetings with some northern leaders.
What we can report now is that whereas Obasanjo had privately attempted to dissuade Jonathan from seeking a second term, his open letter of penultimate week was meant to demonstrate to a section of Nigeria that since private discussions were not yielding results, a frontal attack would jolt the Presidency.
It did. Jonathan has since responded. There have been mixed reactions to the tone and language of the response from the presidency. Consultations are on-going regarding the agenda to ensure that Jonathan does not secure a second term.
But Obasanjo’s manipulative involvement in the political ascendancy of Jonathan should not become a magna charter for the former to engage in malicious and demagogic domination of the latter’s political space. Therefore, rather than create unnecessary heat for the system and in the system, those opposed to Jonathan’s second term should simply mobilize Nigerians and ensure that they vote massively against him. That way, the votes of Nigerians would determine who would be elected president in 2015.
The open letter from Obasanjo is just one in a series of plots. The visit, penultimate Saturday, of the leadership of the APC to Obasanjo’s Abeokuta residence was another. The former president is also said to be intensifying his consultations with political and religious leaders in the country.
POLITICAL SPACE ENDANGERED
Because politicians refuse to learn from other peoples’ mistake, they serially commit the same mistake as those before them. When Sunday Vanguard broke the story on the crisis of loyalty between Obasanjo and Atiku, his deputy, in August 2002, while also warning of the consequences of such a confrontation, it was waved aside. The effect was that, from that moment until 2007 when Obasanjo’s tenure was completed, Nigeria’s political space suffered from undue overheating.
As reported last week, whenever Obasanjo openly confronts a sitting leader, consequences arise.
What makes the present circumstance less dangerous for Jonathan, an Aso Rock insider told Sunday Vanguard, “is that the governors who defected from our party have only cleared the coast for Mr. President to seek re-election”.
The insider added, “Mr President is as good as having the party’s ticket. The president has also been consulting widely and is relating to developments with keen attention”.
The problem generated by Obasanjo’s open letter is that it has divided the polity – those for Obasanjo and those for Jonathan.
As the months roll by before the 2015 contest, sympathizers and supporters alike would dig in and become more entrenched in their positions.
Perhaps the most damaging aspect of Obasanjo’s letter to Jonathan was the allegation that a sniper squad was being trained. According to Obasanjo, “Allegation of keeping over 1,000 people on political watch list rather than criminal or security watch list and training snipers and other armed personnel secretly and clandestinely acquiring weapons to match for political purposes like Abacha and training them where Abacha trained his own killers, if it is true, it cannot augur well for the nation, the government and the people of Nigeria”.
Obasanjo also alleged that Jonathan was not a trustworthy leader. Well, the president’s response had its own fair share of vitriol and vituperation.
For instance, Jonathan said Obasanjo lied barefacedly: The president’s words: “The issue of Buruji Kashamu is one of those lies that should not be associated with a former president.
The allegation that I am imposing Kashamu on the South-west is most unfortunate and regrettable. I do not even impose party officials in my home state of Bayelsa and there is no zone in this country where I have imposed officials. So why would I do so in the South-west? Baba, in the light of Buruji’s detailed public response to your “open letter”, it will be charitable for you to render an apology to Nigerians and I.
In closing, let me state that you have done me grave injustice with your public letter in which you wrongfully accused me of deceit, deception, dishonesty, incompetence, clannishness, divisiveness and insincerity, amongst other ills”. Meanwhile, as the All Progressive Congress, APC, chided the Villa for engaging in a show of shame by the tone of the response to Obasanjo, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, added its voice by accusing the Presidency of shirking in its responsibility of judicially dealing with its accusations against the Obasanjo regime.
Whereas calling Obasanjo’s bluff may not entirely amount to political sagacity on the part of Jonathan, relying solely on the same Nigerian politicians he has warned not to assume that they own Nigeria for his own survival may also not work for him.
While those in the Jonathan administration can claim to be making steady progress, the massive gambit that they have chosen to undertake is the disconnection with the average Nigerian.
There is the perception that Jonathan is disconnected from the masses of Nigeria just as his PDP continues to issue statements that suggest that the grouse of the governors who defected is true.
What all these translate into is that Nigerians may not really matter. For, were Nigerians to matter, the primary concern of leaders of PDP would be the urgent need to win the confidence of the people more and dwell less on the distraction of the bitter politics that it has needlessly created for itself.
A clear example of this was the six-month industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities, ASUU. Before ASUU embarked on the action, notices were given. During the strike, malady set in on the part of government with the provocative threat to sack tens of thousands of lecturers. The government was forced to eat a humble pie.
Already, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Union, NUPENG, have issued an ultimatum to government that they would work against the proposed privatization of the nation’s refineries. They plan to go on strike and ground the economy to make their case.
Before the ink on the paper of the statement of the two main unions in the oil sector dried, Jonathan set up a committee to engage the process of selling the refineries. Meanwhile, barring any last-minute negotiations, Nigerians would again be in for a new year’s crisis should the strike go ahead – just as it happened in January 2012. Yet, here was a president who enjoyed massive goodwill between February 2010 and October 2011. His rating, if truth be told, is plummeting fast.
Still, rather than package a set of people-friendly initiatives that can buy back some of the lost goodwill, the bitter politics and quest for 2015 is the only news. Conversely, there are those who insist that the conduct and carriage of the band of opportunists around and inside the Presidential Villa should be interrogated vigorously lest they reduce – as they are doing – the administration of Jonathan to one that celebrates tokenism and cluelessness as standard practice of political administration.
THE GUN DUEL TO COME
Between Obasanjo and Jonathan, can they spare Nigerians the hostility they have brewed?
Already, any support for Obasanjo’s confrontation is inversely termed to be an act of aggression against Jonathan. Therefore, the hemlock that is being tended in the political space is enough to replicate a Guyana tragedy – in a manner of speaking. Nigeria’s law forbids a gun duel.
Even the gun duel that saw the killing of Hamilton was in the process of being outlawed in America by 1804 when it happened. (Read how US Vice President killed former Secretary of the Treasury in a gun duel)
The civilized gun duel that would serve Nigeria in the present circumstance would be for Jonathan to woo Nigerians afresh with people-friendly initiatives while, for Obasanjo, he should mobilize campaigners against the president’s second term.
That way, the needless overheating of the polity would be laid to rest – as was the bitterness between the former Secretary of the Treasury and the sitting Vice President of America in 1804.