By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has been a recurring decimal in Nigeria’s political history propping up now and then as a morality monitor to those in power
It was at the peak of the struggle for the actualization of the June 12, 1993 elections that General Olusegun Obasanjo told the world that the acclaimed winner of that election, Chief Moshood Abiola was not the messiah that Nigeria needed.
Obasanjo was then a retired military head of state who gained international respectability with his decision to enthrone democracy through handing over to civilians in 1979.
The comment was in the perspective of some, a reflection of Obasanjo’s perception of himself as the country’s ultimate saviour.
That perception was a near fact about five years later in 1999 when Obasanjo was again heralded to national leadership almost as a messiah, no thanks to the precipitous adventures of the late General Sani Abacha dictatorship.
At the mid-point of his second term in office, President Obasanjo’s seemingly messiac tendencies were again brought to fore when associates of the president made desperate efforts to extend his tenure with a third term in office.
A major kernel of the argument of the third term proponents was that without Obasanjo Nigeria would retrogress and hence the desperate measures taken to amend the constitution.
However, Obasanjo’s nationalistic outlook and commitment to an indivisible nation have never been in doubt. No less a person as General Ibrahim Babangida, even in the midst of their mutual suspicions of each other, has publicly praised Obasanjo for his patriotic commitment to the indivisibility of Nigeria as a country.
Perhaps it is from that prism that Obasanjo has perpetually positioned himself as a monitor over all his successors in office. It is a duty he has almost religiously kept to and sometimes at great ridicule and consequences for his personal safety.
When he left office as Military Head of State in 1979 it was alleged that General Obasanjo had a beef with President Shehu Shagari for staying aloof from him and not coming to consult him in his Ota Farm on issues of state.
Associates of President Shagari were quick to respond to Obasanjo that they did not owe him any gratitude.
So when the Shagari regime was overthrown by the Muhammadu Buhari junta, Obasanjo did not see it as totally surprising.
The Buhari regime, perhaps in a bid to gain international and domestic support in its first months in office, told the world that it was an offshoot of the Murtala-Obasanjo regime.
Not long after, General Obasanjo came out from his shell to ask the military government to keep its distance from him and his legacy.
The Ibrahim Babangida regime which overthrew the Buhari regime did not make any pretence about its independence from Obasanjo.
The government’s introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP in 1986 was a major economic initiative that it claimed, would forever change the shape and structure of the Nigerian economy for good.
Giving SAP a human face
It, however, came with much pains that first led to the devaluation of the naira. Obasanjo sometime in 1987 came out publicly to ask that SAP should have a human face.
It was a major intervention by Obasanjo given the public backlash that had resulted from the introduction of SAP.
Obasanjo’s intervention was quickly rebuffed by the then military governor of Lagos State, Mike Akhigbe, a naval officer, who described Obasanjo as a “frustrated chicken farmer.”
Akhigbe’s denunciation of Obasanjo elicited public outrage forcing Akhigbe into his shell.
From time to time, Obasanjo and sometimes his one time military subordinate, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma tackled the Babangida regime, especially in its commitment to the enthronement of democracy.
As the Babangida government squandered its reputation through its convoluted programmes on transition to democracy, Obasanjo increasingly won reputation as a defender of democracy and the poor. It was perhaps that impression he had of himself that made him at the lowest period of the Babangida regime to declare that Abiola who won the June 12, 1993 presidential election was not the saviour Nigeria needed.
Following Babangida’s exit, Shonekan who took over as an interim leader did not last much to have a touch of Obasanjo’s assessment.
Gen. Sani Abacha who shoved Shonenkan aside did not hide his determination to deal with the Obasanjo phenomenon and soon after he had settled down, he descended on Obasanjo and his former deputy, Gen. Shehu Musa Yar‘Adua, the two men he felt would disturb his domination of Nigeria.
Both men were framed into a phantom coup and imprisoned. Yar‘Adua did not survive the prison experience, but Obasanjo did.
Return of Obasanjo as president
Following the tensions at the time of Abacha’s death, it was again to Obasanjo that the military looked up to save the country. Against his initial objections, he was heralded in as the first president of the Fourth Republic on May 29, 1999.
After his exit on May 29, 2007 after two terms in office, Obasanjo has again and again played the role of an active observer.
Though President Umaru Yar‘Adua was known to be his pet project, Obasanjo unknown to many wrote to the new president to carve a unique identity for himself.
In a letter dated May 30, 2007 written obviously a day after he handed over to the new president, Obasanjo wrote thus:
“As you know, for the next few months, perhaps years, your government will be regarded as being in the penumbra of the Obasanjo regime given the situation that brought you into office.
“Against this you must toil to carve out a unique identity for yourself and administration. To do this, you must choose wisely your vision and the folks in your cabinet to drive this vision.”
Obasanjo requested Yar‘adua to focus on four main areas namely: Security, Rule of Law and Economic development.
Though he had issues with aides of the then president, Obasanjo, however, never came out publicly against President Yar‘Adua even when his own daughter and former senator, Iyabo was hounded by agents of the administration in a case that was more political than pursuit of justice.
President Goodluck Jonathan who succeeded Yar‘Adua was even considered in some circles to be more of Obasanjo’s project and it is still surprising to some how the gulf widened between the two of them.
But the first indication of the widening gulf between godfather and godson was Obasanjo’s decision to resign as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in 2012. Obasanjo, according to indicators used it as a test to see Jonathan’s commitment to him and was reportedly shocked that when he, Obasanjo sent him an advance copy of the resignation letter that Jonathan did not come back to beg him not to resign.
Jonathan was reported to have responded to the resignation letter with another letter in which he thanked the former president for his services to the party. It was obvious at that time that the president wanted to be on his own.
Following that, was the gradual attack on Obasanjo’s political base in the Southwest by elements supportive of the president including some shadowy persons.
Having been on his own and piloted the affairs of the nation thus far from one crisis to crisis, Obasanjo’s latest intervention came with his blasting condemnation of Dr. Jonathan as having disappointed God and man.
The letter dated December 2, 2013 was obviously not the first from the former president to the incumbent as Obasanjo stated in the letter that Jonathan had neither bothered to act or acknowledge earlier letters sent to him.
The 18 page letter literally drips anger at the president’s perceived failure as he describes Dr. Jonathan as deceitful and a danger to Nigeria’s corporate existence.
It is instructive that Jonathan has kept back from responding through his acerbic spokesman, Dr. Rueben Abati. According to Abati, Jonathan will respond in person to the issues raised by the former president and former godfather of the president.