Quite unusually, it is not easy if not impossible to decide on the take-off today, especially on where, how and on whom.
Ebenezer Babatope, now 70, who was wrong-footed on his mission of a Good Samaritan in the misunderstanding between President Goodluck Jonathan and their mentor, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo? Ex-Education Minister Oby Ezekwesili who renewed Obasanjo’s original criticism of President Jonathan on the expenditure of the purported over 60 billion dollars inherited from Obasanjo’s regime?
Is the lot of Information Minister Labaran Maku, Senior Media Adviser Reuben Abati and, to some extent, spokesman on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe any better for performing their statutory duties only to be left wrong-footed and stranded thereafter? As a septuagenarian, Ebenezer Babatope might have mellowed but not because he was ever a revolutionary. No Nigerian of his generation (including me) would lay a legitimate or indeed a genuine claim to that status.
Perhaps radicals, at our most self-indulgent. Babatope’s current disposition is, therefore, the outcome of evolution rather than transformation, still less the charge of betrayal often wrongly levelled against him. From the age of 50, realities of life gradually subdue every human being to be more circumspect.
In Babatope’s case, the first lesson for him, at 70, is to avoid being wrong-footed on issues of public figures. Younger radicals should be allowed to exhibit their prowess and feel how it is. Clearly, Babatope observed that the media were only fuelling (in effect, a presumed) misunderstanding between Jonathan and Obasanjo. The correct position was this.
The first Nigerians ever knew of the breakdown of matters between the two men was when Obasanjo chose foreign countries (Switszerland and Senegal) as operational twin-headquarters for releasing snipings at President Jonathan on the ever-rising unemployment, especially among graduates in Nigeria, adding that inaction on that sensitive issue would lead to revolution.
The real shock was not just that unemployment in Nigeria had built up over decades even before Jonathan graduated but particularly that, as the then Chairman of the Board of Trustees of their ruling PDP, Obasanjo had the privilege of unhindered access to Aso Rock where he could have expressed his concern to Jonathan.
After criticisms on that score in this column, either by accident or design, Obasanjo remained unrestrained in his public criticisms of Jonathan when he (Obasanjo) chose a Nigeria-Chinese evening gathering in Lagos to further run down Jonathan’s administration with his claim that he (Jonathan and his predecessor, the late Umar Yar’Adua) had squandered the over 40 billion dollars foreign reserves they inherited from him (Obasanjo) with nothing to show for it.
There was also Obasanjo’s public criticism of Preident Jonathan for not being strong enough to deal with Boko Haram as he (Obasanjo) dealt with Odi (Bayelsa State) people. At that stage, Jonathan, having taken enough, had to rubbish Obasanjo’s record in Odi by explaining that those Obasanjo killed in Odi were innocent old men, old women and kids not involved in all events leading to the massacre.
Then, there was Obasanjo’s somersault still on Boko Haram when he publicly criticised Jonathan for not employing stick and carrot in dealing with the insurgents.
Even, in a recent edition of an African magazine, Obasanjo was still publicly blaming Goodluck Jonathan for insecurity in Nigeria. Again, the issue is not whether Obasanjo is correct or wrong in his observation but that as a party man and if he has no feud with Jonathan, he could pick the phone to get across to Jonathan.
Much as Obasanjo revels in criticising his contemporaries, he loses his temper when criticised. When arguments on fuel subsidy arose and the late Samuel Aluko submitted that any claim of subsidy was a fraud, Obasanjo’s public response was that Sam Aluko was senile. On the other hand, Obasanjo’s reputation is that he criticizes everybody ever privileged to govern Nigeria.
President Shehu Shagari, General Muhammadu Buhari, President Ibrahim Babangida, General Sani Abacha, General Yakubu Gowon, President Umar Yar’Adua and now President Jonathan. He (Obasanjo) always takes to soapbox once he does not have his way with the incumbent head of government. Among the lot, only General Abacha called his bluff and jailed him.
There was therefore no iota of doubt on the feud between President Jonathan and ex-President Obasanjo and none of them blamed the media for their showdown. And as Babatope was vouching for purported cordial ties between the two men, a reconciliation came about, such that PDP nationan chairman Bamanga Tukur thereafter called on Nigerians to acclaim the development. Babatope must have been embarrassed at how he was wrong-footed by his party leaders who confirmed their erstwhile feud openly, all in the name of reconciliation.
Not better off was ex-education minister under Obasanjo’s regime, Oby Ezekwesili, who at a lecture at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, repeated the criticism against President Jonathan (and the late President Yar’Adua) for allegedly spending total of 65 billion dollars foreign reserves left by Obasanjo in 2007 without anything to show for it. Oby Ezekwesili’s toxic criticism of Jonathan must have been soothing for Obasanjo as a rehash of Obasanjo’s earlier criticism on the same issue.
Indeed, it was most unlikely that Ezekwesili could have forced the showdown without Obasanjo’s foreknowledge. Obi Ezekwesili, as Vice President of the World Bank, had an identical showdown with the late President Yar’Adua when, on a visit to Nigeria, she frontally criticised Yar’Adua for reversing and canceling virtually most of Obasanjo’s policies and contracts.
That was after Obasanjo himself , in a scarcely veiled criticism of Yar’Adua on the same issue, went on the HARD TALK BBC television programme, refused to assess Yar’Adua’s regime, conceded that he was a nice man but (Obasanjo) went on to draw a distinction between a nice man and an effective president. Yar’Adua on his part, angrily dismissed Oby Ezekwesili’s criticism and reminded her of the record of Obasanjo’s regime (in which she served for eight years) which he claimed, spent 16 billion dollars on power projects with nothing to show for it. The parting was not mutual.
Ezekwesili’s current criticism of Jonathan’s administration is, therefore, a carry-over of her criticism of the late Yar’Adua’s regime. As she was still flaunting the record of Obasanjo’s regime she claimed was squandered by Jonathan (and Yar’Adua), Oby Ezekwesili was wrong-footed as Obasanjo turned round to reconcile with their mutual target of public criticism, Goodluck Jonathan.
In the light of that reconciliation with Jonathan, henceforth and for the immediate future, Obasanjo will no longer publicly criticise Jonathan, if at all. Where does that leave Oby Ezekwesili? Stranded.
By the way, both Oby Ezekwesili and current Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala did not only serve together in Obasanjo’s cabinet but also later at the World Bank. Was Ezekwesili, in her lecture at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, implicating Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as a collaborator in the purported squandering of the billions of dollars foreign reserves without any impact on the country? Quite logically, while defending the Jonathan regime against the harsh criticisms of Oby Ezekwesili, three of his aides, had to compare Obasanjo’s regime (in which she served) to their current regime.
Information Minister Labaran Maku, Special Media Adviser Reuben Abati and Public Affairs spokesman Doyin Okupe, by Nigerian factor would have been clandestinely faulted even by insiders for concocted disloyalty if they did not speak up for Jonathan.
The three did, only to be wrong-footed by Obasanjo’s surprise appearance at Aso Rock reconciling with President Jonathan. Among the three, Doyin Okupe, along with Oby Ezekwesili, served in Obasanjo’s regime and the idea of taking on her colleague of yesteryears (admittedly in the line of duty) to provide facts and figures to justify her criticism of Jonathan’s regime must have been agonising for him, though amusing to the public. Since Ezekwesili was virtually repeating their mentor’s (Obasanjo) earlier criticisms of Jonathan, the facts and figures Okupe demanded might as well have been asked of Obasanjo.
There is no doubt that Oby Ezekwesili is irrepressible except that in the process, she stirs the hornet’s nest. Occasion there was while serving in Obasanjo’s regime, she revealed her plan to probe the part allegedly played by former Nigerian Heads of State in piling up Nigerian foreign debt. She was dared in this column to go ahead and televise the entire proceedings live to the whole country.
Ezekwesili was, however, given the benefit of enlightenment, still in this column, that since independence in 1960, only General Obasanjo in 1978 took the jumbo World Bank loan, the interests on which piled up to tarnish Nigeria as a debtor nation.
The nearest was Shehu Shagari who also took a minor loan. Otherwise, none of Obasanjo’s predecessors – Balewa, Ironsi, Gowon, Murtala Mohammed or successors – Generals Buhari, Babangida, Abacha or Abdulsalami ever took a kobo foreign loan.
With that fact of Nigerian history, Ezekwesili instantly abandoned her threat. On his part, Goodluck Jonathan was reported to have reconciled with Obasanjo. Jonathan needs a crash course in (a) Yoruba language and (b) Nigeria’s recent political history.
The lesson he will learn is that he, Jonathan, reconciles or collaborates with Obasanjo at his own peril. Unfortunately, former Senate President Chuba Okadigbo is dead but Jonathan should find out the experience of former vice president Atiku Abubakar.
Also, Abraham Adesanya is dead but his associates, former Governors Tinubu, Osoba, Niyi Adebayo and Bisi Akande, can provide Jonathan a thesis on the risk of collaborating with Obasanjo. Very indigenous Yoruba names convey message. There was this radio/television newscaster in the old western region with the name ‘Ladipupo Yemitan. The man’s surname, for its brevity and precision is what Jonathan should adopt henceforth as his middle name in dealing with Obasanjo.
Yemitan is an improvised Yoruba name peculiar to Oyos in Oyo and Osun states of today. Literally translated, Yemitan means ‘’stop deceiving me’’. Unless of course, Jonathan is deceiving himself. In which case, when the come comes to become, we will remind Goodluck Jonathan. What gives Jonathan the guts today to dare Obasanjo?
According to my scouts, when Jonathan, in the course of his campaigns for the 2011 presidential elections, visited Ogun and other south western states, he was told by genuine Yoruba leaders that much as he might be supported for the elections, the only condition was that he, Jonathan, must minimise his closeness to Obasanjo. If Jonathan was shocked at that condition, his recent experiences with Obasanjo must have healed him of that shock.
Also, by now, it is clear that Jonathan is giving himself a fifty-fifty chance to secure a second term. Added to the emerging development that the Action Congress, which last time cleverly conceded South-west to him has now alienated him, Jonathan realises that Obasanjo is of no political value to him in South-west even if he, Jonathan runs in 2015.