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Is it too late?

By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad

“The most distressing thing that can happen to a prophet is to be proved wrong. The second most distressing thing is to be proved right.” – Aldous Huxley

PRESIDENT Obasanjo’s poison letter to President Jonathan laid everything bare, except the full intent behind its title, “Before it is too late.” On the face of it, the title suggests that Obasanjo’s blistering survey of all the ills of Jonathan’s personality and administration holds out the hope that the President can fix himself and his administration in a manner that will save the nation from a looming disaster.

It is the type of warning long-suffering parents give to chronically wayward offsprings, and is intended to frighten them enough to ensure a full and speedy turn-around. You can just picture Obasanjo in all his imperial majesty waving a finger at Jonathan, and walking away from it all.


I have done my own, he says. Now the rest is up to you. The nation, which will receive this disclaimer, is my witness. No one should hold me responsible for dumping you on Nigerians anymore. The Goodluck Jonathan whom Obasanjo plucked and claimed to have engineered to become President has veered so far away from the path that he is literally leading the nation to disaster.

The enigmatic warning in the title sits very uncomfortably on the text of a letter that basically suggests that it is indeed too late for Jonathan, if not for the nation.

The catalogue of failures to deal with corruption and insecurity; the litany of shortfalls in personal integrity and leadership qualities; and the specific, alarming allegations that he is borrowing a leaf from Sani Abacha in raising a killer squad demand a legitimate question: can a man who has so spectacularly failed genuinely reverse himself and save his administration and the nation?

If Obasanjo had read his opus carefully, (or, as some people speculate, the letter he and a few of those past leaders he mentions in his letter wrote together,) and he wants to be taken more seriously, he would have noticed that a more appropriate heading would be one which suggests that President Jonathan should resign now. Something like, “It is time to go, Mr. President.”

But since Obasanjo hints at the possibility of a prodigal, let us ask ourselves how President Jonathan can reverse and save his presidency and the nation. He can fire most of his Ministers and close aides who have even a whiff of corruption scandal around them, and bring in a brand new set of people.

Not very likely. A Jonathan presidency without some very powerful Ministers and aides is virtually inconceivable. These are the very people who give his administration its muscle and defining characteristic, and he has stood by them through thin and thin. To fire them now is to admit that they have soiled fingers all the way to their armpits, and he has been part of their misdeeds. He will stand alone and isolated, a president who sacrificed his most loyal people and friends over a letter from Obasanjo.

Or, he could fire a few Ministers and revisit the volumes of reports from Lemu, Belgore, Ribadu, Fika, Turaki and a few others to help him focus more on fighting corruption, insecurity and reforms of the public service.

This is not the type of demanding endeavour a president with his back against the wall and an eye towards 2015 will do. Besides, even implementing half of the recommendations of those committees will amount to a revolution that will sweep away all the systems and processes that have propped up his Presidency. And President Jonathan is not a revolutionary, particularly the type that will turn the gun at himself.

How about renouncing any ambitions for another term and working hard to salvage his sinking ship? He has that choice, but it will be a very difficult one to make.

If he says he will not run in 2015, his administration will be crippled beyond its current state. Loyalists will abandon him because he will have little to offer hence, and, more significantly, he will not be in a position to protect them after 2015. He will have to deal with resistance from a legion of clannish jolly-riders who have milked his presidency, and many will make life more difficult for him and a nation they will blame for stampeding him out of 2015.

There is also the worry that his party is irretrievably damaged, not by the powers of party functionaries, but by his own weaknesses. Renouncing 2015 may stop some of the bleeding, and may even get one or two people back on board. But the party will be avoided like the plague in many parts of the nation for sacrificing Jonathan on the altar of geo-ethnic considerations. So the party is damned if he runs, and doomed if he doesn’t.

Obasanjo’s assault on the Jonathan  presidency was comprehensive and total. He leaves the President very little room for manouver. He cannot ignore it. He cannot do anything dramatic to get out the sentence of incompetence and lacking moral and ethical basis for governance, without doing more damage to himself. He could resign, or limp on until 2015.  That will be when, according to Obasanjo The Brave, Jonathan could make or break the nation.

He says it will be disastrous if President Jonathan chooses to run. Others say it is not just Obasanjo who says so; but other leaders as well, but these prefer to hide behind  Obasanjo’s patent for writing letters to leaders. But Obasanjo has now made 2015 an even bigger issue than it has been. Now, if President Jonathan takes the current levels of discontent over corruption, insecurity, the management of his party, his personal qualities as a leader and an alleged sniper unit to the 2015 elections and insists on running, Obasanjo’s “too late” will play out.

What will the “too late” scenario involve? It could involve  constitutional, or even extra-constitutional measures to stop the country from completely going over the cliff.

Even assuming you can have these interventions, what good will they do other than replacing a problem with a problem? Then, again, a worst case scenario which Obasanjo implies we could face unless Jonathan radically improves every facet of his character and administration is a failure of the Nigerian state from the combined weights of insecurity, corruption, greed, incompetence and insensitivity of its leadership.

Failure here will mean even more extensive violence taking specific regional, ethnic or religious lines and collapse of all the basic institutions of governance, and security and maintenance of law and order. This doomsday scenario has been contemplated in many circles, and many have dismissed it as a fairytale. Many think Nigeria will not fail as a nation, but will not endure further stresses around ambitions of people like Jonathan and Obasanjo either.

The idea of a strong, united and prosperous Nigeria may take a long time to be realised, given the damage which people like Obasanjo and his successors have caused it. That dream will be easier to realise when you do not have leaders like Jonathan learning from people like Obasanjo that the nation is only as safe and secure as their personal ambitions.

If President Jonathan fails to heed the long list of issues on Obasanjo’s advise list, it will be safe to assume that the nation has crossed the line Obasanjo has drawn for it.

Then we can panic. Obasanjo did not say Jonathan cannot salvage the nation; but he did not say he can, either. In fact, when you end a letter with suggestions that you expect attacks that go beyond the bounds of decency, you imply that far from improving the quality of governance, Jonathan will fight back in an un-presidential manner.

Obasanjo did not expect his letter to trigger a massive soul search in the Jonathan camp. It was a declaration of war of sorts. Jonathan’s response is likely to make matters worse all round.


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