By Callistus Omoregie
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his latest blistering public criticism of the Federal Government, said President Goodluck Jonathan’s response to the Boko Haram insurgency was slow. This is, no doubt, arguable. He spoke in Warri as the moderator of a public lecture by former External Affairs Minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, in honour of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, who was marking his 40th anniversary as a pastor.
He seemed to have chosen the right forum to express his concern over a scourge that has become a national security problem, but his position was defective. The former president reportedly accused his successors of allowing the Boko Haram insurgency to fester and was quoted to have said: “My fear is that when you have a sore and you don’t attend to it early enough, it festers and becomes very bad.
Don’t leave a problem that can be bad unattended.” When I read the news report which was accorded prominence on the front pages of some influential national dailies of Wednesday, November 14, 2012, I told a friend who was with me that the old fox was at it again. I reminded my friend of how Obasanjo slammed the late Yar’Adua early 2010 at a Trust Newspaper Forum when the former president was hospitalized in a Saudi Arabia. Many people must have felt or reacted the same way and this is understandable.
Since 1979, after his lack-lustre administration as military Head of State, Obasanjo has characteristically and uncharitably become a critic of successive governments in Nigeria. He retains the unenviable record as being the only former Nigerian leader (apart from General Muhammadu Buhari who is understandably an oppositional presidential candidate) who relishes open castigation of the seeming actions or inactions of the government of the day.
The only administration that did not get his (Obasanjo) open bashing was his. Unlike some members of the clan of former Nigerian rulers such as Alhaji Shehu Shagari, General Ibrahim Babangida and General Abdulsalami Abubakar, for instance, who have taken advantage of their access to the Presidential Villa to offer advice on governance, Obasanjo has incurably violated that norm. Whereas he is not denied access to the President; yet he has chosen to pitiably mount the bully pulpit on a voyage of open criticism.
The impression Obasanjo creates about himself is that he is not happy to see the other man in the leadership saddle. This tends to confirm the views in certain quarters that he has the penchant to destroy people than to build them.
There is even a proposition in some circles that Obasanjo believes he is the only man who, perhaps, has been created by God to offer the right kind of leadership to Nigeria; and which is why he always gleefully refers to his administration as a trail-blazer of sort. He is wont to allude to some of the things he did while in the saddle as president from 1999 to 2007 in his effort to persuade his listeners that his successors have either lowered the standard or have not been pro-active.
But, in a bid to present as Nigeria’s patron saint, Obasanjo’s attitude has become increasingly confusing. At a point, he donned the garb of a conciliator by going to Maiduguri amid the escalating Boko Haram insurgency to seek to broker a truce. He claimed to have obtained the permission of President Goodluck Jonathan before embarking on the enterprise.
At the end of the day, the move turned awry when his host in Maiduguri with whom he sought to kick-start the process of reconciliation, was killed about three days after he (Obasanjo) left the town.
But today, it is convenient for Obasanjo to wrongly accuse Jonathan of slowness in responding to the Boko Haram insurgency simply because he wants to portray the current administration as weak and incompetent. It is also game for Obasanjo to stomp on the Jonathan presidency just because he was instrumental to the political arrangement that threw up the Umaru Yar’Adua-Jonathan presidential ticket in 2007.
The truth, however, is that Obasanjo cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time on the same issue as he has tended to do in the Boko Haram case. Here is a man who went to Maiduguri purportedly on a reconciliation mission now turning round to recommend the Odi treatment for the town of Maiduguri and perhaps other towns in the North just to nip the Boko Haram insurgency in the bud.
He would have loved to see Jonathan deploy soldiers to the flashpoints to level the places-annihilate the innocent and the ‘criminals’ in a military action. To Obasanjo, this is pro-activeness.
This is how to show that the Federal Government or the President is not weak. This approach does not accommodate rationality that is grounded on humanity: how can you commit genocide because you want to take out some criminals? While reflecting on the crisis at Odi, Obasanjo had said at the Warri forum: “I attended to a problem that I saw; I sent soldiers. They were killed, 19 of them (were) decapitated. If I had allowed that to continue, I would not have the authority to send security anywhere again.
I attended to it…. If you say you do not want a strong leader, who can have all the characteristics of a leader, including the fear of God, then, you have a weak leader and the rest of the problem is yours.” As I wrote above, Obasanjo’s attitude is increasingly confusing. He claims Jonathan’s response is slow.
He also claims that his successor, the late Yar’Adua, was soft on corruption; but I ask: when he (Obasanjo) became president and inherited the problem of militancy in the Niger Delta region, what did he do very quickly to end the scourge?
Was it not the late Yar’Adua who ended it with his famous Amnesty deal? Is his claim about the late Yar’Adua being soft on corruption not tenuous against the backdrop of the fact that despite his much-trumpeted anti-corruption crusade, his administration witnessed, perhaps, the most bizarre forms of corruption?
For his own pecuniary interest, did Obasanjo not couple a so-called Transcorp conglomerate and sold Nigeria’s prime assets to this group where he kept a personal N200 million worth of shares in the blind? Did he not use the vantage position of his authoritarian presidency, and the awesome state power, to organise the launching of a N7-billion Presidential Library Project in Abeokuta?
Has it not now become a notorious fact that Obasanjo was only paying lip-service to the war against corruption as nearly every action of his was a violation of the principle and creed behind the scheme? Nigerians know that Nuhu Ribadu, former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman, used in fighting his personal battles, was promoted Assistant Inspector General of Police by Obasanjo without any recommendation from the Police Service Commission, thereby violating due process.
Where then is the moral high ground that Obasanjo is standing on to pontificate on his administration’s fight against corruption and dismiss his successors as soft on the anti-corruption crusade? Indeed, on both scores-Boko Haram and corruption-Obasanjo has been unfair to his successors.
It is in his character to be so disposed; only that I am surprised that he is behaving as if he has fallen out of favour with the government he helped to enthrone. But then by recommending the Odi recipe for the Boko Haram insurgents, Obasanjo has succeeded in showing to the world the inhumanity and irrationality of his presidency.
He cannot in a self-ignited frenzy railroad a cruel recipe on Jonathan; and, as far as I am concerned the president’s systematic and multi-faceted approach at tackling the Boko Haram insurgency, which factors in the innocent civilian population, is the best in the circumstance and should therefore be sustained. Omoregie writes from Benin. Obioha’s column returns next week.