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Between Obasanjo and his friends

By Ochereome Nnanna

ANY time former President Olusegun Obasanjo, PhD, makes a major public statement, it throws up the old argument as to whether we should look at the message on its own or take it within the context of the messenger. Canadian communications thinker, Marshal McLuhan, is famously associated with the phrase: “the medium is the message.” This, to me, means that the impact a message makes depends on the medium through which it is delivered to the masses.

There is nothing Obasanjo said in his special statement published on Tuesday,  23rd January 2018, that has not been said by so many people, including the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, a Buhari acolyte. Even the president’s wife, Hajia Aisha Buhari, over a year ago, warned that she would not support her husband for second term unless he corrected shortcomings highlighted in Obasanjo’s statement.

Olusegun Obasanjo

Some people chose the moment, for reasons not difficult to fathom, to take on Obasanjo, pointing out that he was also guilty of the many issues he raised against the Buhari administration during his own time. We already know how Obasanjo ruled Nigeria on two occasions. Nobody needs to distract our attention from the matter at stake by trying to remind us of them or reduce the importance of Obasanjo’s public outing at this juncture of the unfolding transition.

Remember that it was on 12th December 2013, roughly one year to the elections of 2015, that Obasanjo “opened fire” in his 18-page open letter to former President Goodluck Jonathan. It should be obvious to any discerning reader that Obasanjo’s statement, just like his letters a little over four years ago, is meant to have an impact on the unfolding transition. Obasanjo intended his letter to Jonathan to de-market and scuttle his second term bid. It came at a time the regime had become mortally wounded by the Boko Haram insurgency, alleged high level of corruption especially in the administration of the subsidy accruals and the general loose handling of state matters that required firm leadership. It came at a time the coalition of opposition groups against Jonathan was gathering traction. Above all, it was obvious that the international media and the Western powers led by America’s Barack Obama and the UK’s David Cameron were already hostile to Jonathan mainly because the anti-gay rights bill in the National Assembly was about to be signed into law by him.

The same indices  appear to be coming together again. President Buhari has lost much of the mystique or borrowed robes he was clothed with when political opportunists saw him as the only person who could rally the North behind their quest for power. Buhari is obviously the most laid-back leader Nigeria has ever had, his age or health issues quite apart. He sleeps on the job. We elected him into office but he surrendered power to a group of rapacious family members, kinsmen, clansmen and tribesmen whose selfish interests are far removed from what Buhari and his All Progressives Congress, APC, promised Nigerians. This is what roils Madame Aisha Buhari which nudges her to re-post videos critical of her husband’s deadbeat handling of state matters.

Buhari lies supine and totally unfeeling while Nigerians are slaughtered by armed ethnic militias masquerading as herdsmen. His government does not appear to acknowledge the heinous crimes these people are wreaking upon the citizenry. The Nigerian armed and security forces which Buhari handed over to his family members, kinsmen, clansmen and tribesmen quickly mobilise against cattle rustlers but appears to provide a protective cover for armed herdsmen killing indigenous peoples and taking over their farmlands. This is why many Buhari and APC acolytes are drawing back and reconsidering their options.

The international media has dismissed the regime as a huge joke. The Western powers, especially President Donald Trump of the United States is cold on this regime. Forget that it sold some military helicopters to Nigeria and pocketed over half a billion dollars. For Trump, it was just another lucrative deal.

Obasanjo who is highly connected internationally and knows what many of us do not get to know has seen the tell-tale signs. He has read the auguries, and he knows the right time to walk away from a ship heading for the doldrums, or so it seems. I don’t know what Obasanjo has seen, but it must be such that he is ready to risk everything to be part of (or even lead) a vanguard for another democratic regime change.

Otherwise, why would Obasanjo, who is a personal friend of President Buhari; who publicly tore his People’s Democratic Party, PDP, membership card and threw his enormous weight behind the candidacy of Buhari three years ago, suddenly decide to call on the President to gracefully “dismount” from the horse and go home to take care of himself? What personal interest could he be pursuing this time? If Obasanjo was accused of disavowing Jonathan because he was not allowed to dictate power or remain as the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees and Life Leader of the party, what has Buhari done against his interest that should prompt him to drop the President for a quixotic pursuit of regime change? I can’t see it.

Buhari has not gone after his interests or his person, though there are many things the President can do if he wishes. Obasanjo has easy and direct access to Aso Villa. A bird in hand is worth millions in the bush. So, if the old chicken farmer decides to drop the bird in his hand in preference for the one in the bush (with all the possible risks to his interests), there must be something more than stark selfish interest involved.

Our people have a saying: “what an elder sees sitting down, a youth cannot see it even if he climbs the tallest tree”. May be, as time goes on, we will begin to see what the former president is seeing. As a layman in the matter of séance in which Obasanjo, as an elder, could be an expert, I wait to see how Obasanjo’s Third Force of Coalition for Nigeria will spring up. Will it be a repeat of the 2014 event when a large chunk of the ruling party detached itself and joined a coalition seeking to dethrone a ruling party? Or will it be a brand new party exerting enormous osmotic pressure to drain the existing APC and PDP of their cytoplasmic juices to define a new direction for the nation?

Nothing on ground today suggests the imminence of such. Yes, we hear of the Nigerian Intervention Movement, NIM, recently floated by high class professionals. Some of them played prominent roles during the Obasanjo presidency. We are yet to see its mettle. Most of the big names associated with it have not won elections anywhere. I don’t see how the NIM, for now, can push aside APC and PDP to win elections. The APC, being the ruling party with enormous incumbency advantages, will not just walk away from power just because Obasanjo says so. Even when Buhari was still ill in London, some “loyalists” were already promoting his second term. Now that he appears okay, Obasanjo’s words will simply be ignored. The PDP, contrary to doomsayers’ self-serving prognoses, can still capitalise on Buhari’s failures to swing an electoral uppercut in 2019.

The main effect of Obasanjo’s statement is to hasten the pace of transitional activities towards 2019, and the game is on. After the Federal Government’s rather uncharacteristically polite reaction to the statement, we will soon see how Obasanjo and friend will get along from now on.


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