Obasanjo, Buhari and the rest of us

By Mohammed Haruna

Last week former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was widely reported to have claimed himself and two or three other  “eminent” Nigerians brought General Muhammadu Buhari into power to salvage Nigeria from what looked like an impending doom under Buhari’s predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. He made the claim at a reception in Jalingo, Taraba State capital.

Obasanjo did not name the other two or three Nigerians but it is not unlikely that they included former army chief, Lt-General TY Danjuma, who is from Taraba, and former Lagos State governor and currently the most pre-eminent Yoruba politician, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
“Three or four of us from different parts of the country got together” he reportedly said, “and said to ourselves what do we do…We got talking and we knew we needed to do something.” Apparently that “something” was Buhari’s coming to power through the ballot box last year.

Himself, Danjuma and Tinubu are not known to be the best of friends, given their political differences and especially given the bitterness Danjuma has harboured against his former boss since Obasanjo seized half his lucrative oil block which he had been given by the late former military dictator, General Sani Abacha. So it is difficult to imagine how, when and where they “got together” – to use Obasanjo’s words – and decided to put Buhari in power. But then in politics nothing is impossible. Besides, Danjuma and Tinubu may not even have been the “eminent” Nigerians Obasanjo teamed up with to oust Jonathan.

Whatever the case, all three never hid their disappointment with Jonathan over his dismal record as president, even though it was Obasanjo alone of the three who felt strongly enough against his estranged godson to write him a long and bitter open letter which proved critical in the fall of the godson from power. And having made up their minds that Nigeria was no longer safe in Jonathan’s hands each decided to support Buhari as the only viable alternative to Jonathan.
Whether or not the fall of Jonathan was due to teamwork or the cumulative impact of individual efforts by Obasanjo’s “eminent” Nigerians, Nigeria was saved from tipping over into an abyss last year. Even then Obasanjo’s claim to the leading role in the rescue mission seems as dubious as it is one more evidence of the man’s predilection for reaping where others have planted – and of denying responsibility for any of his decisions that have gone awry.

His claim is dubious because, first, he was the architect of the country’s Jonathanian predicament, to begin with. As we all know and as his spokesman during his 2013 re-election bid, Akin Osuntokun, acknowledged in his Thisday column last week, he it was who, against all protestations, single-handedly imposed the Yar’adua/Jonathan ticket on the ruling party for the 2007 presidential election and ensured that it won.
“President Umaru Musa Yar’adua,” said Osuntokun, “was directly and specifically installed as president by Obasanjo and was presented as a fait accompli to Nigerians. As a matter of fact, it was the whole presidential ticket comprising Yar’adua and Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan that was so imposed.”

When Obasanjo imposed the pair on Nigerians he knew that Yar’adua was not in the best of health and Jonathan had hardly proved his mettle, first as deputy governor and then as governor of Bayelsa State after he (Obasanjo) orchestrated the impeachment of Jonathan’s boss. Besides Jonathan had the albatross of a wife implicated in laundering millions of dollars round his neck.
As he is wont to, the former president has since denied he knew Yar’adua was fatally ill when he decided to impose him as president. His excuse was that Yar’adua himself assured him he was as fit as fiddle. To think the man really wants us to believe an applicant for any job, not to mention the one into a country’s Number One Office, never needed a health check!

Obasanjo must have known that a combination of Yar’adua’s ill health and Jonathan’s cluelessness was like a national disaster foretold. Yet he still went ahead to impose them on Nigerians.
In my article on the occasion of the former president’s official 76th birthday three years ago, I said Obasanjo was one of the most hardworking, intelligent, knowledgeable, globally well connected and decisive leaders Nigeria has ever had.
He was, I also said, the luckiest. Thrice at least, I said, he reaped where others had sown; first, when he received the instruments of surrender from the Biafrans in 1970 after another general, the late Benjamin Adekunle, had done virtually all the fighting in his war zone, second, when he succeeded Murtala Mohammed following his assassination in the failed February 1976 coup, and third, when he reaped the dividend of the Yoruba war for “June 12” after its warrior-in-chief, Chief MKO Abiola, died in detention in 1998. Obasanjo reaped the dividends of that war by returning to power as elected president in 1999.

Three years after the piece in question, I can now add one more item to his long streak of luck, thanks to a diligent story by Sunday Vanguard (August 14), even though its motive clearly was more to inveigh against Nigeria’s revenue allocation since 1967 than to shine the light on how the Niger Deltans themselves squandered the absolutely huge sums they were allocated during the period. I am, of course, talking about the oil wealth that has since made us all so lazy and fractious.
Save Jonathan, no Nigerian leader has received the huge oil revenue Obasanjo did during his eight-year presidency. Of the total 96.21 trillion Nigeria received as oil revenue between its discovery in 1958 and now, Sunday Vanguard said, Obasanjo received 27 trillion, over half the 51 trillion Jonathan received in his nearly six years in office. The highest any one had received before and after Obasanjo, except of course Jonathan, was 1.6 trillion under General Sani Abacha.

By comparison, the oil revenue former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida whom Obasanjo loved to criticize, received in all his eight years in office was like spittle: a mere 420 billion Naira. Yet Obasanjo’s economic legacy does not begin to compare with Babangida’s in its positive impact. If nothing else Babangida at least built Abuja and almost all of the oil infrastructure the country enjoys today with that spittle.
Given Obasanjo’s many virtues I enumerated three years ago, I had personally expected a much better political and socio-economic legacy from him than what he left behind, especially as he loved to criticize not only Babangida but also all other Nigerian leaders.

Unfortunately for Nigeria, Obasanjo left behind a terrible legacy of political meddlesomeness in other arms of government and in his political party, huge deficits in infrastructure and a highly selective crusade against corruption. It was a legacy he ought to have known Yar’adua was not strong enough health-wise and Jonathan was not well equipped to fight successfully. Predictably the two, Jonathan especially, only made matters worse.
This is the legacy that Buhari must now grapple with. Obasanjo now claims credit for being in the forefront of those who have made it possible for the man to come to power last year. Yet three times before he did everything possible to stop Buhari from becoming president. This obviously makes Obasanjo’s claim somewhat tenuous.

That Obasanjo may have changed his mind about Buhari was really more because events – including popular sentiments for Buhari’s moral perpendicularity and the Independent National Electoral Commission’s card reader which made it well-nigh impossible to rig elections – had gone beyond anyone’s control, including Buhari’s, than because the former president was penitent for the sorry legacy he had left behind.
Obasanjo has said so far Buhari has not disappointed him and he trusts the man not to let down Nigerians. “I know,” he said at the Jalingo reception, “he will overcome the challenges the country is facing.”

Given the hard times Nigerians are currently facing, they can only say Amen to that. And then hope and pray that the wily old general truly meant what he said and was not merely flattering the president in order to blind him to a haymaker that may follow, something with which he has knocked down many a Nigerian leader after him.

The occasion was the Fourth Annual Ibadan Sustainable Summit at Le Chateau, Bodija, Ibadan, where he was the guest speaker. His topic was Leadership in Africa’s Quest for Sustainable Development.
“We had some people who were under 50 years in leadership positions. One of them was James Ibori. Where is he today? One of them was Alamieyesiegha, where is he today? Lucky Igbinidion, where is he today? The youngest was the Speaker, Buhari. You can still recall what happened to him. You said Bola Tinubu is your master. What Buhari did was not any worse than what Bola Tinubu did. We got them impeached. But in this part of the world some people covered up the other man.”

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