By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor,
The usual fine boy mien was dropped last Wednesday as President Goodluck Jonathan hosted a delegation of northern elders led by the elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassi. The trouble with the president flowed from the innuendoes poured on him earlier in the week by President Obasanjo in Abeokuta.
Obasanjo’s meeting on Monday with Iyalodes and Iyalojas from across the Southwest was indeed very significant. In the audience were the women who could help sway the voting pattern of almost half of the population of the Southwest region given their influence over other market women. The market women according to the calculations would in turn persuade their customers in the markets around the region.
The delegation was led by the Iyalode of Yorubaland, Chief (Mrs.) Alaba Lawson. Significant in the membership of the delegation was the presence of the Iyaloja-General of Lagos, Chief Mrs. Folashade Tinubu-Ojo, the daughter of the national leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
Just few years ago, the Tinubus and Obasanjo were on warring paths but the realignment of forces has seen to it that even these days Tinubu comes on political consultations to Obasanjo’s Abeokuta residence.
Noting the economic downturn in the economy, Obasanjo had whined and wailed the fate of the nation lamenting how the present administration had blown about $55 billion from the reserves.
In words that would ordinarily touch the women traders, he lamented that the drain of the foreign reserve was responsible for the slide of the naira to the dollar which he said he had heard was sliding towards N190 to the dollar.
In an obvious innuendo, he said: “In the profession I know very well, the military, what we normally say is that there are no bad soldiers but bad officers. If you see a situation where the soldiers are not doing well, we need to examine the officers in charge. So it is in the family, the community, the town and the country.” Without mentioning President Jonathan in name, Obasanjo had clearly shown to the women that the problem with Nigeria was with its leadership.
Even though the innuendo was a direct hit at President Jonathan, the former general was quick to say “I have no grudges against Jonathan and I think Jonathan equally has no grudges against me. I’m not quarrelling with Jonathan but all I know is that whatever is good for Nigeria, that I’m ready to die for.”
“I emphasize that whatever is good for Nigeria, is what I’m ready to defend with my life. Whoever, I emphasize, whoever says he would not do anything good to Nigeria, even if he says he’s ready to go ‘konko below’, I’m ready to square it up with such a person. I say again, whoever that person may be, I want you to get that correctly. If this country is going to change for the better, it would start from the top and if it’s going to be otherwise, it would start from the top, too,” the former president stressed.
If anything, the hit was painful and perhaps calculated at damaging the president before the formal launch of his presidential campaign which took place in Lagos yesterday.
Remarkably, efforts to get a response from senior presidential aides on the issue were rebuffed. The usually voluble attack lion, Dr. Doyin Okupe was out of reach. Peoples Democratic Party, PDP spokesman, Chief Olisa Metuh demurred.
It was to later emerge that senior presidential aides had been told not to respond to Obasanjo. The president himself was going to deliver the poison.
Dr. Jonathan had given notice of his coming attack within 24 hours when he inaugurated his presidential campaign council the following day, saying that he would come out to give his performance against that of former heads of state.
“When we start campaigns, we will confront them with what we have done as a government, we will tell them what they did not do when they were heads of State,” President Jonathan had said last Tuesday.
Like Obasanjo, he did not mention any name but given the background of the event in Abeokuta the day before, the innuendo directed at Obasanjo could not be hidden.
Meanwhile, the mobilisation was on for the Northern elders to serve as a fitting audience for the president’s reply which came on Wednesday.
Remarkably, as he spoke that day just after the routine Federal Executive Council, FEC meeting, the anger swelled in him as he gave his own frontal response to Obasanjo, albeit in innuendo.
“Some people call themselves statesmen but they are not statesmen, they are just ordinary politicians. For you to be a statesman, it is not because you have occupied a big office before but the question is what are you bringing to bear on the nation?”
“Are you building this country? Or are you a part of the people who tell lies to destroy this country; to create enmity and make people who ordinarily would have been living together to fight themselves?”
“Are you planning to set the country ablaze because you did not get that particular thing you want?
“Some people, including those with big names, are hiding under some clogs and creating a lot of problems in this country. They are making provocative statements that will set this country ablaze. How can someone tell me that such people are senior citizens. They are not senior citizens and they can never be. They are ordinary motor park touts.
“If you are a senior citizen, you will act like one. It is not because of the offices we occupy, it is by divine grace and providence that some of us occupy these offices. But what role are you playing to build this country?”
Outbursts from the two men
As he spoke and as the anger boiled over, the president to the amusement of his audience, said that it was not the time for talking too much even though he had said a mouthful in ten minutes.
The outbursts from the two men just few weeks before the presidential election in which Obasanjo is opposed to Jonathan is reflective of the struggle for power by the two men.
Obasanjo in his audience with the market leaders affirmed that his interest was in the well being of the nation which he clearly stated was in bad shape.
Jonathan and his aides, however, counter that Obasanjo’s objections are an ego trip essentially because he has been shoved aside from the driver’s seat.