January 8, 2023

Obi and Endorsement Brouhaha: How Obasanjo heightened stakes in presidential contest

Obi and Endorsement Brouhaha: How Obasanjo heightened stakes in presidential contest

By Jide Ajani, General Editor

At the best of times when he attempts to do good by intervening in the affairs of  Nigeria through an open letter, former President Matthew Okikiolakan Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo almost always insinuates himself into a self-serving agenda. Last week when he wrote about and took on the Muhammadu Buhari administration, addressing Nigerian youths and concluding that the presidential candidate of the LP, Peter Obi, is his preferred candidate, Obasanjo again stirred the hornet’s nest.

Known for his swashbuckling moves, Obasanjo’s stance on the choice of whom Nigerian youths should vote for has elicited a barrage of angst from the other front-running, contending parties – All Progressives Congress, APC; New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP; and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. 

Curiously, however, the confetti of attacks on Obasanjo may not have been poured on him had he endorsed any of the candidates of the political parties attacking him and calling him names. Far from shadow boxing, the reality of today’s Nigeria requires clear-headed decision-making in choosing who among the four front runners in the presidential election will best tackle the nation’s current challenges.

This report will show why Obasanjo’s endorsement of Obi and the attacks arising therefrom befuddle the extent of Nigeria’s crisis situation just as the report will also conscientise Nigerians to the hypocrisy that continues to dominate the political sphere, while explaining the possible outcomes of a second ballot.

Read Also:

Because today is always going to be yesterday’s tomorrow, good sense should compel every leader to sow good seeds today in the belief that when today becomes yesterday, people can look back and appreciate good deeds. 

Dateline 1979: Just after one of the executive meetings of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, some concerned members of then – military junta, led by General Olusegun Obasanjo, employed back channels to reach the UPN leadership regarding the choice that had just been made by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The latter had just picked Sir Philip Umeadi, of Igbo extraction, as his choice for running mate.

Other reports had it that an attempt to pick an elder statesman from the North was deemed a waste of time as, according to a source who played a major role in the events of that era, “the North was not prepared to vote for Awolowo”. 

Awo, as the UPN leader and presidential candidate for that year’s general elections was fondly called, did not back down on the junta’s request to drop Umeadi from the ticket.   He contested the election with Umeadi; and lost. The circumstances which surrounded the outcome of the litigation against his co-contestant, Alhaji Usman Aliyu Shehu Shagari, at the Supreme Court, till date, is alleged, in some quarters, to have enjoyed a tacit support of Obasanjo’s military government.

Gleefully, Obasanjo handed over to Shagari that morning of Monday, October 1, 1979, at Tafawa Balewa Square, Race Course, Lagos. The Yoruba nation never forgot, nor forgave Obasanjo’s perceived theft of the presidency on behalf of the North. 

But here was a man who believed in the workability of a united Nigeria and, therefore, could not come to terms with a political party fielding a Yoruba and Igbo as presidential and vice presidential candidates, respectively, barely nine years after the civil war. 

Whereas Obasanjo enjoys the confidence and support of the international community as a statesman and continues to be engaged on the global stage, the former President has an understanding of Nigeria’s unity from the prism which some have continued to describe as an unfortunate standpoint of first being seen as pro-Nigeria, before his Yoruba origin.

But like the late Yoruba sage, Awolowo, once noted, you cannot claim to be Nigerian without first acknowledging that you are either a Yoruba man or an Igbo or Hausa.

Obasanjo’s letter and the path to redemption

Perhaps, the letter written by Obasanjo, which addressed Nigerian youths in general, speaking to their conscience and the need for Nigeria to make that turn for the better, has received quantum applause and condemnation in equal measure from beneficiaries and losers, respectively. 

It will not be the first time Obasanjo will take on a sitting President or would it be the first time he attempts to be the conscience of the nation. (Check ‘WHEN OBASANJO SPEAKS’)

What makes this different is that on Saturday, January 22, 2022, the leadership of the PDP visited Obasanjo in Abeokuta.  Obasanjo told Iyorchia Ayu, PDP’s National Chairman, and his team, that he had quit partisan politics and would only act as a statesman.  Yet, his letter of last week was nothing but non-partisan. Endorsing Obi may not be considered partisan but campaigning for Obi of LP is.  This is so interesting because, before now, Obasanjo had crisscrossed Nigeria seeking the buy-in of some elder statesmen for the Obi project.  

By the same token, in August last year, the candidate of the APC, Bola Tinubu, visited Obasanjo in Abeokuta in a carnival-like manner, seeking his endorsement. Whereas Tinubu’s supporters claim the Abeokuta visit, which, in truth, ended up being a fool’s errand, a wasted effort, was merely a voyage to show respect to an elder, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, came out, in a celebratory manner, claiming something to the effect that Obasanjo was in the bag for Tinubu. It had to take a statement from Obasanjo’s office to pour cold water on that claim that he did not endorse Tinubu. 

Similarly, but with less gusto, Atiku Abubakar, the PDP candidate, craved the support and endorsement of Obasanjo without making it frontal.  He did not get it.  Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of NNPP, once an appointee of Obasanjo, would have also loved the endorsement but did not get it.

Yet, in a fiery, feisty open letter, Obasanjo chose to lampoon the ruling APC, the incumbent President and Commander-in-Chief, Buhari, before endorsing Obi.  Many have ignored the salient points raised by Obasanjo, including but not limited to ”one ridiculous point that has been touted to justify unjustifiable appointments and selections is ‘competence’” Obasanjo’s words: “In truth and in reality, genuine competence can be found in any region or section of Nigeria through track record and performance if only people will honestly and sincerely look hard for people with such attainment and attributes. Most of us in good conscience can testify to competence when we see any anywhere. What is masqueraded as ‘competence’ self-interest and nepotism” 

Then, there was also the point he made regarding how bad Nigeria was in 1999 when he took over, and the fact that ”although at that time, Nigeria was in very bad shape and was tottering on the verge of collapse and break-up, even then, Nigeria was not faced with the level of pervasive and mind-numbing insecurity, rudderless leadership, buoyed by mismanagement of diversity and pervasive corruption, bad economic policies resulting in extremes of poverty and massive unemployment and galloping inflation” that is prevalent today.  But because Obasanjo will always be Obasanjo, the real reason for writing the letter was to tell Nigerian youths that they should vote for Obi who, he canvassed, is the best among them all.

Still, some believe and, therefore, insist, that Obasanjo works so hard to get people into power, watch them flounder, abandon them and wait for their mistakes.  Some political pundits insist that it is also as if he does it so that he would still be seen as the best ever to have ruled. 

With Obi’s endorsement and the movement the LP presidential candidate has gingered, Obasanjo is seeking to once again endear himself to Nigerians after what some are describing as the spectacular failure of Buhari whom he endorsed and campaigned for in 2015, a sort of redemption song. 

Obi’s attraction and the optics of a second ballot

Is it a fair move? Only Obasanjo knows.  Will it bode well for Nigerians? With Obasanjo’s one vote but a stature near larger-than-life, the endorsement is good for Obi.  If not, it would not have been the major, trending news the whole of last week, garnering, in its wake, other, further endorsements of important nature.  Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has since followed suit. South-South leader and elder statesman, Pa Edwin Clark, has also endorsed Obi.

But these endorsements alone do not deliver electoral victory.  The constitutional requirement of majority votes and 25 percent votes in at least 24 states of the 36 states of the federation is also there.  That is the threshold.  Whereas Obi is the talk of the town, the campaign rallies of the APC and PDP are at variance with the general talk of Obi’s growing acceptance by some leaders in the country.

Between Tinubu and Atiku, the mammoth crowds that attend their campaign rallies are humongous.  However, earlier in the process, street walk for Obi dominated the headlines, necessitating the need for the two other front runners to step up their game.

The fact that a manifestly contending third force has emerged to disrupt the traditional two party contest continues to push the anxiety of a possible second ballot. That, in itself, presents a poisonous prospect for diabolic horse-trading.  In the event that none of the candidates meets the threshold, any possible second ballot may not look good for Obi and Tinubu.

With the high level of toxicity between the Obi and Tinubu camps, there is the likely possibility that the North will rally round Tinubu in a second ballot between both men.  Similarly, in an unlikely second ballot between Obi and Atiku camps, the fact that another southerner of Igbo extraction in the person of the LP candidate would be seen as depriving a Yoruba man (Tinubu – Emi lo kan) the presidency would cause Yoruba votes to gravitate in the direction of Atiku.

And, in the event that the second ballot is between Atiku and Tinubu, Atiku can rest assured that Obidients would vote for him. This, more so, because Obi’s exit from PDP hurt the latter’s voting position.  So, all the endorsements coming in for Obi are with a view to avoiding a second ballot. By the same token, a possible second ballot may not bode well for Tinubu.

Yet, there is the Kwankwaso angle to all these. Where will Kwankwaso swing?  The unfortunate reality of Nigeria’s democracy is that the absence of ideas and belief is not new, it is becoming more acceptable to the extent that ethnic sentiments and money rule.  Legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola, alluded to this when he said, last week, that the person with the deepest pocket may run away with the 2023 presidential election. Still, Kwankwaso, a chip off the old Aminu Kano block, may end up being the game changer. 

In all of these, Obasanjo’s latest letter and his endorsement of Obi sparked new life into the campaigns last week.  So, what is it with the Obasanjo mystique?

When Obasanjo Speaks

In 1983, during the deadly days of the post-1983 election violence, Obasanjo took a swipe at then-President Shehu Shagari for running a clueless government. Soon after, precisely on December 31, that year, the military struck. Again in the early second half of 1985, Obasanjo, while delivering a lecture somewhere in the South-West, lampooned the General Muhammadu Buhari junta and, barely two months later, Buhari was toppled.

When Obasanjo tried something similar in 1989 against the Ibrahim Babangida administration, attempting to ride on the back of the riots against the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, of that government, younger military officers out-shouted Obasanjo.  Whereas Obasanjo, who holds the traditional title of Balogun of Owu, doubling as the Ekerin Egba, had counseled that Babangida’s SAP must have a human face and a milk of human kindness, Navy Captain Okhai Mike Akhigbe, then-military governor of Lagos State, charged back on behalf of that government, describing Obasanjo as a frustrated chicken farmer.  That silenced Obasanjo for a while.

It was not until the troubling days of June 12, 1993 presidential election annulment, a time when it would have been expected of Obasanjo to be on the side of decency and logic, that the former President found his voice in a most ludicrous and egregious manner.  Rather than keep quiet in the face of nothing meaningful and helpful to say, Obasanjo declared that the winner of that election, Bashorun MKO Abiola, was not the messiah Nigerians were waiting for.  That statement further emboldened the military to stay the course and cause of annulment.

In retrospect today, maximum dictator Sani Abacha, by a twist of ironic tragic-comedy, hauled Obasanjo into prison as a way of stopping his serial pranks – the coup tribunal actually ordered Obasanjo kept out for life.  Interestingly, had those administrations Obasanjo criticized found accommodation for his influence, all would have been well in his estimation!  For a traditional man, it takes a strange individual to do what Obasanjo does with relish.

After imposing Umar Musa Yar’Adua on Nigeria, it was the same Obasanjo who railed against the former when his illness became imminently terminal.  And after campaigning for Goodluck Jonathan to become President in 2011, and when the centre could no longer hold for both men, Obasanjo switched on his atavistic and cantankerous mode. He wrote against Jonathan.

Again, after watching Buhari flounder, Obasanjo, in 2018, took the Daura-born army general to the cleaners.  In the wake of the letter written by Obasanjo in 2018, a national newspaper had, in its editorial, observed the following, “This government seems to be alarmingly slow. Buhari set himself up for failure from the outset, ring-fencing his presidency with appointees, mostly from his part of the country, relatives and acolytes.

“Without regard for the ethnic and sectarian diversity of the country, he loaded the security apparatus preponderantly with northerners and filled vacancies in departments and agencies with northerners. Of some top 20 security positions, at least 17 are held by northerners. Never in the history of this country has a leader demonstrated such clannishness and insensitivity. A sharp cleavage is tearing the country apart.”

Continuing, the editorial made the distinction that “refraining from plunder is not the only test of integrity: fairness and equity, fulfilment of promises and zero tolerance for errant aides and associates also matter. Buhari fails the integrity test by his benevolent treatment of Fulani terrorists, who are on the rampage nationwide; his continued retention of appointees who smuggled in a wanted pension thief, and who, at various times, have hobbled the anti-corruption war.

“This indicates that things have changed in worrying ways. Buhari’s record of failed electoral promises such as one to break up the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, whose indiscretions have saddled us with yet another round of petrol scarcity, beggars belief.”

Although the Buhari Presidency has pushed back, describing Obasanjo as a egregious interloper who thinks too highly of himself, Obasanjo’s latest attack on Buhari reminds Nigerians that all is not well.

But, his latest letter and the admonition to Nigerian youths to vote for Obi will be tested on February 25, 2023 at the polls.