By Rotimi Fasan
IT was a kind of love letter, a labour of love the writer titled ‘Before it is too late’ but which has been variously renamed by commentators. I’m talking here of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter to his political protégé, President Goodluck Jonathan. It was, or meant to be, a private letter which eventually found its way into the public space.
This has got presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, running at the mouth like a repentant witch. He has accused Obasanjo of bad faith, called him names but in the end promised his principal’s personal response to the letter.
Which is all he should have said, if it was at all necessary to respond in any way other than address the issues raised by the former president. But the exposure of this letter no doubt forced the hand of Abati to a hasty response. Such private letters to Jonathan from Obasanjo had received no response from Jonathan. This much Obasanjo said in his letter.
This is a disgusting violation of the common rules of etiquette which speaks to the kind of degeneration that has entered activities at the presidency and which, probably, led to the exposure of this latest letter.
Neither Abati (hoping he got the approval of his boss before making his response in a presidency where everybody appears to be their own boss) nor Jonathan, for that matter, has a right to complain at the exposure of Obasanjo’s letter, if they’ve become adept at ignoring mails addressed to them.
That the presidency has no proof that it responded or planned to respond to Obasanjo’s mail more than a week after they received it, only rushing to complain after it was published by the press, is evidence of their irresponsibility and failure to appreciate the enormity of the problems confronting this country, problems partially created or aggravated by them but which they evidently have no answers to.
The Jonathan presidency has not only been deaf to the complaints of ordinary Nigerians but also to the yearnings of the midwives of its birth.
Obasanjo could at least say, his epistolary effort would seem to suggest, that ‘I told/warned you’ if or when the ‘come comes to become’, whatever that might be. And what are critics of Obasanjo’s letter saying? There’s no Nigerian best placed to warn Jonathan now than Obasanjo who campaigned for him, carried and walked him through his first steps to the presidency.
Right or wrong, Obasanjo has more to account for the emergence of the Jonathan’s, like the Yar’Adua’s presidency before it, than any Nigerian living or dead.
Aside his tendency to be everywhere at every time, even acting like a power house outside Aso Villa, which are traits Jonathan should be able to handle without becoming totally heedless of his words, especially where they border on national wellbeing- aside his domineering tendency, Obasanjo should have a special claim to Jonathan’s ears. Jonathan need not agree with him but he should at the very least hear him and respond to him appropriately.
But to ignore him as he ignores the words of Nigerians generally shows what hostage he has become to power and to those around him.
Obasanjo is definitely guilty of many of the sins his letter criticises about Jonathan. Like Jonathan he was many times guilty of putting his presidential powers to private or selective use as he did with the EFCC or the manner he ignored court orders when he withheld funds allocation to LagosState in his fight with Bola Tinubu.
While those the EFCC hounded under Obasanjo might have received selective attention, it’s not the same thing as saying that they were innocent or had no case to answer. The point I make here is that Obasanjo’s opinionated ways made him deaf in many instances even when he was vastly more purpose-driven and clear-sighted than anything Jonathan has ever attained since he became vice president and eventually president.
Such power-induced deafness is, perhaps, a peculiar but not inevitable affliction of occupants of Aso Villa as are the other government houses we have around the country. But must Jonathan repeat or continue with the same mistakes of the past or, as has become evident, compound them? Can’t he avail himself of the wise words coming his way and wake up from the hangover caused by too much indulgence in power intoxicants and corruption?
Obasanjo is a former president and must have access to privileged information. His can’t entirely be the profusions of a politician hungry for attention.
His comments on Jonathan’s stockpiling of arms even when he said they are yet whispers ‘in the dark’, training of snipers in the same place and by the same hired killers that worked for Abacha- indeed Jonathan’s drift into dictatorship amid glaring failure of leadership in the area of security are not matters to be waived aside.
The diversion of huge sums from sale of crude oil and the general absence of governance in many areas of official conduct may be issues Nigerians have commented about and provided proofs for in some instances. But that does not make them less important coming from Obasanjo nor should this seem mere parrot formulas because he makes the same observations. As he mentioned in his letter, Jonathan has been a poor and, one must admit, rude communicator who does not respond to mails.
It’s clear that Nigerians have a way of claiming for themselves one of their own who finds himself in power. They read the success of such person in ethnic terms. We have seen this with previous leaders from different parts of Nigeria. Obasanjo enjoyed such attention from the Yoruba.
But it must be said that Obasanjo did not bask in such ethnic endorsement. Many times, even perversely, he went against the interest of his Yoruba kith and kin. Of the AD governors who supported his second term bid for example, none except Bola Tinubu returned to office, no thanks to Obasanjo’s sleight of hand.
He decimated the rank of the opposition in the South-west in favour of the PDP even when he had their support prior to his election. While the morality of Obasanjo’s conduct was open to huge questions in this regard, not so his support for his party.
Jonathan turned a blind eye to the deserved victory of the opposition in Ondo, Edo and Lagos for personal gains- just so that he could advance his presidential ambition. While APGA could have won the governorship election in Anambra unaided, the flawed electoral process which Jonathan acquiesced in at the expense of other parties including his is yet another justifiable ground for Obasanjo’s criticism.
All told, Jonathan and his supporters would do well to hear and listen ‘before it is too late’.