By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
You are a great statesman. You are a man of letters. Congratulations on your PhD at 80. At 80, you still write lucidly, acerbically and long. President Buhari’s got 20 pages. Jonathan’s was 18. Your observations have always been clear, concise and essentially valid.
Whether it is about an economy without a human face in 1989 or about lice and insensitive politics of clannishness and nepotism in 2018, you have always voiced the mind of many on the street. They will always find you are meddlesome old man. I wish they would learn to concentrate on your observations and not your motivations. An old egocentric man would always have petty secondary motivations.
In your letter to Buhari you told him many truths. They will always find your candour abrasive and sensationalist. President Jonathan said that it was mischievous for a respected elder statesman to speak to a president through open letters. But how else would you have told President Buhari what his wife had gone to the BBC tell him to no effect. When the bold woman made herself heard she was reminded she was a housewife. She was told her job description was kitchen and bedroom affairs, only. I am happy you are not a woman. You may be insulted but wont be treated with stark condescension.
You have earned your reputation Baba. You have been taking presidents to the cleaners since 1979. Jonathan, in December 2013, didn’t take his own with his characteristic equanimity. Amiable Jonathan called you unsavoury names. You had told him he was exceptionally corrupt and weak. He looked at you and referred to you a small-minded vindictive man. He said your letter was filled with baseless rumours and deliberate mischief.
He said you hid under an open letter to attempt to harass him out of a yet undeclared candidature in the 2015 elections. His boys even said you were the grand architect of corruption in third republic. Reuben Abati has been dancing in television studios after reading your current letter. But they had said you were a broken moral compass.
They had named names and ugly events. Mr Fix it and his exploits, Chris Uba and his works in Awka, Mantu and the third term project, Halliburton and all the speculations. They said you are a political glutton, perpetually seeking relevance, tearing and devouring political offsprings, to feast a voracious ego. I told them then to leave you and your sins and focus on your gospel.
I thank God you have forgiven Jonathan and his misguided boys. You have retained the courage to speak truth to power. It is my prayer that President Buhari would digest your observations and sift through your recommendations. His appointments have truly reflected perhaps a subconscious tendency towards clannishness. Old men have many foibles.
He has allowed his naked indifference to corruption scandals swirling around some of his close aides undermine public faith in his integrity. It isn’t just you and his wife. Many of his fans have described him as a master of own goals.
I prayed Buhari should respond to your letter. Because if he had put that letter where he put the Maina report then your caution would have been wasted. I thought you should have titled it—‘Before it’s too late part two.’ That could have inflicted some urgency on a man who has declared that he is no longer ever in a hurry.
I am happy you didn’t accuse him of training snipers to handle political opponents. Because that would have crossed Buhari’s redline. Such a tale while seemingly preposterous against a man like Jonathan would find easy credibility against a man of Buhari’s pedigree. Fortunately Buhari has responded through a minister. They chose their words carefully. We will wait for their actions.
They are right Baba, the economy is showing visible signs of improvement. They are growing rice and foreign reserves the way you would have done. But they skirted over the issues of nepotism, clannishness and political insensitivity. I guess they are chewing on those.
Baba, you hit many nails on many heads. Buhari has disappointed many. He couldn’t sort out the embarrassing EFCC vs DSS feuds. He has dilly-dallied and let murderous Fulani herdsmen assume impunity. He couldn’t sniff the stench of corruption around his men who abused the CBN dollar subsidy. He couldn’t clear out a bumbling Attorney General who has gone to court to truncate corruption investigations by the legislature. His security appointments have remained senselessly lopsided.
He is yet to come clean on his health status. He didn’t have the political courage to deregulate the downstream petroleum industry. We don’t know what he promised his wife in London. But the Jackals and Hyenas have not been banished. In fact, they have remained cross-legged in the sitting room. He has disappointed many of us who have been mocked senseless for believing and expecting much more from him.
But Baba, Buhari is not an utter failure. There was a punishing oil glut. I have prayed he would take your admonitions and repent.
Baba, you were a little too presumptuous in your recommendations. I know you are entitled to your personal opinions but you are not an ordinary man. Your opinions have to be wholly objective and measured. Don’t let them say you are egocentric.
They can say you are an electoral lightweight with an oversized estimation of political self importance. Many envy you, Baba. But Baba your conclusions in this letter are little disrespectful. Buhari’s ill health and frailty must have impacted on his effectiveness. But he has not even declared his candidature. You know you never declared you wanted a third term.
And you insulted those who assumed it from your body language. So why didn’t you wait? And what kind of an elderly statesman publicly tells a sitting president not to exercise a constitutional and conventional right to run for a second term in office?
You said President Buhari lacks the mental and physical and psychological capacity to move the nation forward. So I thought you would stop at asking Nigerians not to vote him if he ran. You have to lead by example in respecting people’s boundaries. That was what you did in 2013. That is what you should have done. Wait for him at the polls and ambush him. You said it’s your personal opinion. But your opinions are authoritative.
How could you have prescribed a dismantling of the present political set up? Yes, you did. Jonathan warned you in 2013, that the tone of your letter to him then could have precipitated subversion. The content of this letter to Buhari can instigate and legitimize subversion.
You described the two main parties as moribund and dismissed any hopes that the current system was redeemable. You painted a picture of utter hopelessness. You exaggerated here and there. And you recommended overreaching radical surgery. Your observations may be correct but your conclusions and prescriptions are wrong Baba.
Your recipe is a nebulous makeshift coalition to replace multi party politics in the interim. This proposal is at the best fraught with grave risks. This proposal may be well intentioned but it is manifestly retrogressive. Any attempt to purchase political cohesion through short term measures outside of multiparty party politics would retard our stuttering political development. Such shortsighted attempts at quick fixes would never yield the organic growth of democratic institutions and processes that we desperately need.
Your recipe Baba, reveals your frustration with the status quo. You are not alone. But you must not let emotion trample on reason. Many have accused you of possessing a messiah complex. You know they all believed you wanted to be a life president. This your proposal has opened a window for a multitude of suspicions. Some have conjectured that you want to manipulate one of your proteges into the position of head of an interim government of national unity. They have insinuated that you cannot affect Buhari’s fortunes in a free-and-fair elections in 2019. So you have opted for the backdoor. Let’s leave them with their gossip.
You have the requisite political stature and diplomatic weight. You have noticed a gap in our political framework. You must not opt for a makeshift fix. You have everything to build a third national party. The idea of an adhoc coalition of angels reeks of impatience.
Baba, collect your resources and men together, infuse them with good will, and form a third national party. That way you would help the growth and maturation of Nigeria’s politics. Any political contraption that is not founded on firm constitutional democratic principles and practices would ultimately prove as willowy as Shonekan’s flimsy government.
Baba, many are frustrated with the political foundations of the country. I believe the country begs to be politically restructured. It begs for a rearrangement that would decentralize power. It doesn’t need a coalition of puritans coming to it with the righteousness of the sidelines. Devolution of powers to the regions may not change attitudes immediately.
But it would engender greater public scrutiny, better accountability and a wider sense of belonging. It will spur healthy rivalries amongst the regions. Fast developing regions will attract migration and taxation wealth. The masses in poor mismanaged regions would find anger from envy and hunger. And they will channel it to their local leaders rather than to ‘marginalization’ and Abuja.
Contrary to your position sir, political restructuring will ultimately change attitudes.
Baba, Buhari’s opponents are jubilating and losing concentration. They must think that your letter constitutes a sack letter. Buhari has a right to contest the elections. Please tell his opponents keep their feet on the ground, find a good candidate and go on a house- to-house campaign.
Tell them to keep their focus on the electoral map. Please remind them that you are a great father and not a god. Buhari has a moral obligation to tender his medical certificate to the Nigerian public. And to get his London doctors to face media scrutiny over his health. He has an added moral obligation to come clean on all scandals engulfing his appointees. But ultimately, it must be left to the people and not even the gods to decide his fate if he chooses to run for re election.