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Is Obasanjo’s “coalition” DOA?

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By Ochereome Nnanna

FORMER President, General Olusegun Obasanjo’s public statement of 24th January 2018 asking President Muhammadu Buhari not to run in 2019, left us with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, we were not surprised because the only regime that Obasanjo has spared his acid missive was that of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. That should not shock anyone: Obasanjo was the greatest beneficiary of Abubakar’s hurried eleven-month transition programme. The Abubakar regime released him from the Yola Prisons, pardoned him and mobilised support for him to emerge as an elected president on the platform of a new popular national party then, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP.

Obasanjo says he writes these things because of his love for Nigeria, but his critics feel he tries to muddy his successors (even those he personally brought to power) to make his own tenures look the cleanest. Some also say he takes such action when his interests and expectations in a regime are no longer fully accommodated.

Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo

On the other hand, his January 24th anti-Buhari public statement, though conveyed in unusually polite and statesmanly tones, did surprise me. I could not see the obvious Obasanjo interest that Buhari, whom he supported after dumping the party he exploited to emerge a two-term elected president, had offended. To the best of our knowledge, Obasanjo went in and out of Aso Villa just as he wished. He could not claim to be among those whom the president abandoned after achieving his long-sought ambition to be an elected president.

It also caused a lot of excitement because Obasanjo spoke the minds of millions of Nigerians and reflected the true state of the nation. He said what a lot of other concerned Nigerians have been saying, but being who he is, his own contribution was bound to touch the insular nerves of Aso Rock’s “today’s men”, and it did.

What intrigued me the most was that Obasanjo did not just criticise and fold his letter; he promised to lead the way to usher the change he was asking for. That meant a whole lot of things. For instance, his promise to champion a “Coalition for Nigeria” was almost like Pastor Tunde Bakare’s Save Nigeria Group initiative (funny enough, in spite of the cries of Nigerians over incompetent governance, fuel deregulation, poor quality anti-corruption fight and herdsmen’s attacks, Pastor Bakare no longer sees the need to Save Nigeria since his friends are now in power).

It also meant that Obasanjo could end his retirement from politics and re-enter the fray at 82. It meant he could directly mount the soapbox and campaign against a fellow general who, though, is his junior. Some also felt that Obasanjo is like a bird that dances at the roadside to a beat coming from the depths of the forest: he must have sensed that for some reasons, Buhari is unlikely to last the distance if he opts to disregard his “advice” and run in 2019.

These were some of the factors that stoked public interest in the Coalition for Nigeria Movement, CNM, which was formally launched on 31st January 2018 in Abuja with fanfare. Obasanjo “joined” the group during its launch in Abeokuta, Ogun State the following day. But since that day, very little is heard of the Movement. After the froth died down, very little beer is left in the tumbler.

When Obasanjo took this giant and risky step, I wondered to myself what he was really playing at. Did he intend to create a new political party, hoping for disenchanted members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and main opposition PDP to join? Did he expect his CNM to become what the APC became in 2013-2015? If so, that would be an act of unpardonable political naiveté for a man who perched atop a ruling party for the best of 15 years. Perhaps, it is only Obasanjo himself alone who will not know that he lacks the capacity to win elections on his own.

It is one thing to be in power and leverage on incumbency or firmly established networks to win elections, and another thing to form a party and win elections. A Bola Tinubu has proved his capacity to win elections both by leveraging on incumbency and starting his own party, at least in a restricted section of the country. Obasanjo can only “move the mountains” within established political parties like the PDP and APC. The fact that his CNM has already started fizzling out within a month of its birth proves that he really has no political constituency of his own. Obasanjo going solo has exposed him for what he is: a political general without an army he can call his own. Perhaps, he should have just preached without trying to practise as well.

It is only a political neophyte who will believe that the APC and or PDP would simply dissolve into an upstart CNM just because Obasanjo waved a magic wand. The PDP is a deeply entrenched political party which ruled the country for 16 straight years. Say what you like about it, the party is still strong. It has proved this by successfully exiting its leadership crisis and presenting itself as a beautiful bride for disenchanted APC leaders who, in any case, are mostly PDP in their political reflexes, to return. Though they decamped to the APC and helped it to win the 2015 elections, they have not been accepted or accommodated in their new platform by President Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu’s core of APC. The urge to “run back to mama when beaten” as legendary Muhammad Ali would say, is a natural impulse.

On the other hand, say what you like about APC’s current internal travails, it is the ruling party; the party with the “yam and knife”right now. And you know, Nigerian politicians are like goats – they run after the person who is carrying fodder (goat food). The elders say a dog will always follow a pot-bellied man; he will either defecate or vomit any time soon. Dogs have no time for flat-bellied folks because there is nothing to offer, or so it seems.

In spite of the Buhari regime’s incompetence, nepotism and failed promises, it will take a series of major earthquakes within the APC before it will lose its grip on power. However, that is quite possible. Many goats within the APC have starved while a few have fed fat. A time comes when hungry goats go and fend for themselves. The fact that the APC has not used the past three years to consolidate its various coalition sections into an integrated whole means that it won’t take much for it to come loose at the seams. But at the end of the day, it is still the APC that will determine whether it holds on to power or loses it back to the PDP.

Yes indeed, the fight is between the APC and PDP. There is nothing a “third force” can do to alter this fact in 2019. The PDP should be happy that Obasanjo’s CNM is not drawing traction. A strong “third force” will merely make APC’s retention of power (even under Buhari) a mere cakewalk. Forget what happened in France under Emmanuel Macron. We are a long way from France. If there is going to be a change for the better in Nigeria, it can come from the APC or PDP, at least for now because they are the only viable, bankable platforms.

A third political force should wait till June 2019 and launch big time. With hard work, it can be on a level field with APC and PDP by 2023.


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