By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“The naked truth is always better than the best-dressed lie.”– African Proverb.
PEOPLE who have taken ringside seats in the on-going bruising fight between President Goodluck Jonathan and President Olusegun Obasanjo must have been jolted when news filtered out that the two had attended a church service at the Presidential Villa, last Sunday and had a private lunch afterwards.
Like the long-running US television drama from which this column is borrowing a title today, the latest twist in the Jonathan/Obasanjo saga will leave audiences bewildered, and waiting for the next dramatic episode.
Unlike the soap, however, which is fiction, the tussles, turns and twists in the relations between the two Presidents are real.
They have the potential to damage one or both of them, and if they can make it stick through the many dangerous bends and booby traps, the nation may have to pay a huge price for a productive collaboration between them.
The appearance of President Obasanjo at the Villa last Sunday would mean many things to different people.
The spat which followed the damning condemnation of Presidents Yar’Adua and Jonathan over profligacy by a former close associate of President Obasanjo, a former Minister and senior official of the World Bank, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili was being registered as one more in a series of assaults on the levels of integrity and competence of the Jonathan administration.
Either it hurt more than they let it be known, or they had insufficient knowledge of the lady, the response of the President’s men merely brought forth harder blows.
It was not the best strategy to deflect accusations of waste and corruption by alleging that the accusers had skeletons in their cupboards as well. If Mrs. Ezekwesili had stolen or wasted public funds, why didn’t the Jonathan administration attempt to bring her to account earlier?
It is also doubtful if those who picked up the gauntlet on behalf of President Jonathan had established strong evidence that the lady spoke out only as a foot soldier in Obasanjo’s war of attrition against President Jonathan.
A faulty fightback strategy and an insufficient knowledge of the adversary played into the hands of the President’s opposition. Mrs. Ezekwesili dug in and challenged the President to both respond to her accusation and bring her to book.
Then more mistakes were made. A sweeping condemnation was put out by the Presidency which lumped together an assortment of the President’s most visible and loudest critics under one label which suggested that they were expired, frustrated under-achievers who failed the nation when they had chances to do well.
Worse, allusions were made in a manner that suggested that Oby, Fani-Kayode, el-Rufai and quite a number of the most prominent critics of President Jonathan were acting out a script as have been bent on fighting Jonathan for want of something better to do.
The remote allusion that they could be cheerleaders of the former President Obasanjo also gave him an undeserved advantage, because, except for the possible exception of Fani-Kayode, most of President Jonathan’s most trenchant critics have only a tenuous relationship with President Obasanjo, at least in public.
The fact is that el-Rufai, Ezekwesili and Fani-Kayode all served as Ministers under Obasanjo, and were part his of best and brightest, or as they liked to be called, his Dream Team. But Jonathan still has the rump of that same team on his side. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, Dr. S. Usman, Dr. Bright Okogwu, Steve Orosanye and one or two others are still key players in the Jonathan administration.
Oby’s query over the fate of our resources cannot fail to put some of these people in very uncomfortable positions. They know her well enough to know that she is very likely speaking her mind, and she is far from finished.
The “yesterday’s men’s” most incongruous member is el-Rufai. His new book obviously has not reached the Villa, because it is anything but a flattering commentary on the character and record of President Obasanjo as President.
For a long time to come, the contents of this book will represent reference points, principally because they raise issues that will touch many toes, and step very hard on others. Nasir el-Rufai will most likely drop down many places in the list of Obasanjo’s boys, and it may have escaped the President’s men’s attention that he is a key player in the opposition now, and this may be the reason why they chose to lump him with others as yesterday’s men (and women). Like Oby and Fani-Kayode, el-Rufai is far from finished.
Against a raging quarrel largely seen as being triggered by Obasanjo’s determination to pull the carpet from under Jonathan’s feet, what should be made of the church service and a lunch at the Villa last Sunday? One, it could all be vintage Obasanjo: He hits you with the left, and hugs you with the right hand.
He wants his candidate for the PDP Board of Trustees in place, but wants to avoid a damaging fight against a President who is being primed to resist him. He will advise conciliation and healing, while he is actively rebuilding his base within the party and in the South-west and North. President Jonathan will be advised to be very wary of this gesture by most of his people.
Two, Obasanjo is attempting to hedge his bets. He is unsure of the strategy of building solid oppositions against Jonathan at this relatively – early stage, so he wants to walk on both sides of the street. el-Rufai’s claims of the desperation of the former President to stop Jonathan becoming President in the first place will be reinforced by the serial and damaging condemnation of Jonathan as weak, indecisive and incompetent by Obasanjo in the last few months. President Jonathan and his men will be forgiven if they see Obsanjo as public enemy number one.
But it will also be a great folly to distance the President from him entirely. So both will engage each other in a game of wits until sensitive issues such as the B.O.T chairmanship and the fallouts from el-Rufai’s exposés are settled.
Three, President Jonathan is rattled by President Obasanjo and his touted army of cheerleaders in the media.
The appearance of rising resistance and hostility against incompetence and corruption from strong interests in the South-South, a visible move to push for a Northern PDP candidate in 2015 and spreading popular perception that President Jonathan has no capacity to rein-in corruption and improve the quality of his administration may be pushing the President to seek to limit damage.
This may be the thinking that could inform a possible olive branch. If that is the case, it will take more than an olive branch to satisfy Obasanjo.
He wants the whole orchard, and history should caution Jonathan against swimming towards the deep end because the shallow end is crowded.
A very poor record and an eye on 2015 may be responsible for some panic measures and poor judgement on the part of President Jonathan and his legion of spokespersons.
The public relations stunt that puts Jonathan and Obasanjo at the same church service and a lunch afterwards is unlikely to convince Nigerians that all is now well between them. Jonathan may be acting on the advice which says that you should keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
But he needs to be very careful in deciding who his friends and enemies are, because confusing the two will make his life a lot more complicated. Sometimes it is your worst enemy who tells you the truth.