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A beginning, or an end?

By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed

“There is no difference between mother and baby snakes; they are equally poisonous.”  Kenyan Proverb.

PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN has finally responded to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter. The nation will pour over its language, nuance and content, to see whether it represents an end or a beginning of a relationship between two of the most powerful people in Nigeria today. There is one point which will not be disputed.

In more restrained and polite language which should befit a younger person, Jonathan called Obasanjo an irresponsible hypocrite and liar, a veritable security risk, a leader who had a long history of subverting his party and the electoral process, an inciter of the public against authority, an ambitious leader who is scheming to install puppets in place of Jonathan, and many more things that should keep anyone, other than Obasanjo, awake at night.

Jonathan’s letter appears to have benefitted from the wait and contemplation of appropriate response. He used it as an attempt to sell his achievements which have been denigrated by Obasanjo’s letter. His approach is suggestive of an injured but dignified leader, quite capable of hitting hard with iron fists in velvet gloves.

His responses were carefully chosen, neither leaving him at the risk of being further taken up, nor sounding unduly apologetic. He took advantage of intervening developments without stating them, such as the confusion which is trailing the letter of the Governor of CBN over crude payments.

He would have scored a few brownie points for not referring to Iyabo Obasanjo’s letter to her father, or the deluge of condemnations over the manner Obasanjo made his letter public. He concluded as the injured party: “… 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, among other ills.”

Now that Obasanjo has Jonathan’s response, what is to be expected? It will be safe to assume that Obasanjo will not write another letter, open or top secret to Jonathan anywhere in the near future. His letter was detailed enough, and must have been written with the thought that a response will be made by Jonathan, but it will not mitigate the damage. In any case, there is nothing in Jonathan’s response which will compel Obasanjo to write another letter. He is likely to be satisfied that he has exposed Jonathan in ways, which appear to have hurt Jonathan.

If there has been cordial relationships between these two, we can assume that their mutual hostility is now fully established at its highest point. Should the nation worry over a falling out of this magnitude, and in a manner which suggests that things can only get worse? The answer is yes. Not because Obasanjo and Jonathan will miss each other’s company, but because the issues involved in the quarrel are important to national security and the integrity and survival of our democratic system.

Should the nation be content to treat allegations that Jonathan is raising a killer squad and compiling a list of opponents to match as the outcome of a spat? Are Jonathan’s denials sufficient to restore our faith that in addition to all our security challenges, we do not need to worry about snipers targeting opponents? Neither Obasanjo or Jonathan should treat this issue as settled because one has made an allegation and other has denied it. There should be a judicial inquiry into this matter, and we must know the full facts over the existence of a sniper squad, or receive evidence that Obasanjo is lying.

Nor should we treat Jonathan’s 2015 plans as a matter which should not bother us. Obasanjo says Jonathan has no moral right to run again in 2015. Jonathan says he did not say he will, or will not run. His party is, however, falling to pieces in part due to his undeclared ambition. Massive realignments are taking place which have major implications for the integrity of the 2015 elections.

If Jonathan runs on the PDP platform in 2015, he and the opposition will polarize the nation in a manner it has never been more polarized. The electoral process will be unlikely to have a say in terms of who wins the presidential elections, with Jonathan’s defeat signalling major setbacks for a regime long used to power; and an opposition smelling blood and a certain victory, in part engineered by the PDP itself.

If he chooses not to run, it will be equally damaging to his interests, particularly if he delays announcing what everyone already suspects, which is that he will run. What possible reasons would he advance for not running? National interest? That won’t wash in a nation which has not set his bar for responding to national interest very high.

He cannot involve personal reasons in a nation which is accustomed to leaders equating their private lives with public offices. His personal life is linked to thousands of other personal lives of people whose fortunes and future depend on his continuance. Those people will have a say, and it is most unlikely that they will agree with his decision.

He could invoke statesmanly qualities of sacrifice and the need to save our democracy and avoid security setbacks. His immediate constituency will not buy this. There are people willing to go the full distance to make sure that he is President until 2019, by any means necessary. If he jumps ship in 2015, they will blame the rest of Nigeria for throwing his overboard, and will make sure no one sleeps with two eyes shut. President Jonathan is as good as being a candidate in 2015; and Obasanjo’s letter just seems to be more of an impetus to stick to the course.

What about the (mis)management of the national economy? Jonathan says Obasanjo is misinformed and mischievous in his interpretation of the performance of the economy. Except therefore for a little problem here and there, some of which he inherited from Obasanjo, there is little to panic over. So we should expect no radical steps against corruption or poor management. Security is a challenge, but Jonathan is doing his best, and results are showing. All in all, President Jonathan is doing his best, far from encouraging “disunity, confusion and chaos,” as Obasanjo alleges.

Now that we have two letters from a President and a former President tearing each other up, we can assume that Jonathan and his people will be more hostile to criticism from quarters similar to Obasanjo. Obasanjo himself is likely to assume a more trenchant posture as an irritant to the administration. This is the end of decency, and the beginning of descent into dangerous territory. The political opposition will feed off this damaging quarrel to make greater capital out of Jonathan’s woes. The presidency will dig in and fence off mediators and moderates who may be tempted to be peacemakers after Obasanjo’s damage.

There is still some room for other leaders who can get involved in influencing President Jonathan. His response to Obasanjo is far from an adequate assurance for Nigerians that the economy and national security are in good hands. The worst that can happen is to have President Jonathan think that abusing Obasanjo back has solved his problems.


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