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Our former presidents are absent again!

By Ugoji Egbujo

There have been two public national ceremonies in two weeks. The seats reserved for former heads of state were empty. General Gowon sat alone on May 29. On June 12, leaders came from other countries. But our former leaders stayed away from our celebration of democracy. In Banana republics, former leaders live in forced exile in foreign lands. But in our great country, they are free men.  What then could be their anger? And what could be this message?

They are all avowed democrats. But they won’t accept the results of a presidential elections the whole world deemed flawed but credible, and representative of the wishes of the people. Statesmen should act with circumspection. They ought to leave pettiness for children and tantrums for toddlers. Hate and political bitterness are being disseminated by politicians, our statement should  be at the forefront fighting fires of disunity.

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Obasanjo. President Obasanjo was perhaps not expected to attend. He helped the incumbent president come to power in 2015. He continually gave him pass marks on performance until December 2018, when it seemed something suddenly snapped. Because two months before he wrote that letter asking him to resign from office, he had praised his general performance. His absence was not surprising. His bitterness is understandable.  Since 1979, no president has been spared Obasanjo’s bile. Obasanjo gives to others what he abhors. His posturing as the ultimate kingmaker has been punctured, rubbished. He perhaps feels humiliated and  diminished. In 2018/2019, he had bragged to the world  that Buhari could not win any elections  in Nigeria.  He staked too much. The Abiola honour must be salt upon weeping  injury. He is therefore  perhaps entitled to any little  mischief that would console him.

Jonathan. President Jonathan is the easy going and forgiving one. That’s his reputation. He moves around the continent these days as an international election observer. It has become a literal occupation, an international  reward for handing over power after his defeat in 2015. He enjoys his new role. Yet  he disputes the result of the 2019 presidential elections which other international observers jointly deemed fairly credible. Obedient  and humble Jonathan. Once President Jonathan returned to Obasanjo’s fold I knew he would always do Obasanjo’s bidding. He had once called Obasanjo a petty mind. Those were those turbulent days  when Obasanjo wrote him  a stinker  in 2014. He has to check now and see if he has set himself on a  path of pettiness. Because the truth is that since he didn’t contest against Buhari, being at these events would not mean his party was wrong in contesting the results in court. His presence would signify respect for INEC outcomes even if they are disagreeable and being contested in court by his party’s  candidate.

Babangida.  Gen Babangida’s absence could because of frailty. But he was once a mystery. It was only when he  stepped aside for Abacha and  went into a hibernation that he seemed mortal. After Abacha’s death, his stock rose. Fables credited him with supernatural abilities. He helped Abdulsalam and Obasanjo come to power. Minna returned to its ‘Meccahood.’ But today, a man that can win Niger state and the north without a pilgrimage to Minna is on the saddle. The IBB mythology is dead. He wrote a letter in 2018, whose timing seemed choreographed by Obasanjo. He wanted the president not to run for re election in 2019. His absence could be because of frailty. But his  absence alongside Obasanjo could be the solidarity of letter writers. He has, it must be noted,  congratulated Buhari on his victory at the polls.  And that differentiates him from Buhari and Jonathan.

Abdulsalam Abubakar. General Abubakar’s absence is the most inexplicable. He is the head of the national peace committee. The committee is most visible on the eve of elections arranging signed agreements,  trying to facilitate peaceful elections. The 2019 presidential elections were adjudged credible. The peace committee ought to live by example. The committee preaches that the results of credible elections should be accepted and any complaints taken to the courts for adjudication. The absence of the head of the peace committee at the two events to connote the winner of the elections has raised many eyebrows. The neutrality of the committee must be protected sensibly. The position of the committee must be the acceptance of INEC  results of elections judged credible by observers until they are upturned by the judiciary. It’s unlikely the General was unavailable for the two events. It’s worrisome because Bishop Kukah of the peace committee was there in Ota, some months ago, to witness what some had called the sanctification of Atiku Abubakar by Obasanjo. He said he was unaware Obasanjo would turn a private meeting into a political ‘deliverance session.’ Some have read Abdulsalam Abubakar’s absence and wondered if the peace committee had a preferred candidate.

Our leaders must preach their sermons of peace and unity with their conducts.

Some have said the Buhari has been served his own medicine. They  accused the president of not attending the inauguration of other presidents since 1999. It would be understandable if he didn’t attend because he was a contestant in those elections  and was still prosecuting his election petitions  in court at the time of those inaugurations. No one could have expected Atiku  Abubakar to attend the recent ceremonies.

In the aftermath of the elections President Buhari asked his jubilant supporters not to gloat. I will urge the president to listen to these special kinsmen.  Their opinions even when coloured by pettiness is valuable. They may have sent him a message by their absence. He should sift the grain from the chaff of their discontent. He should not yield to the vanity of egotistical men. He should not succumb to the  intimidation of the mighty. But he must do all he can to promote social justice and  unify the country. That is the direction of  the Next Level!

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