It is normal to assume that President Goodluck Jonathan can defend himself against unfair tactics by any of his predecessors. In a somber situation, there may also be not much wrong in occasional snipings by past leaders but to be appreciated, this can only be on two conditions. Such criticisms by past leaders must be openly well-meaning and must have historical value.
There lies the problem in the case of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is always there to pounce on any administrative problems of his successors as a military leader, predecessors as a supposedly elected leader, and now his successors as an elected leader. By the way, no matter the desperation, since everything in the fight-back by Jonathan’s aides is done in his name, nothing can excuse the cowardice in picking on Obasanjo by dragging in other innocent past leaders who so far have maintained the expected dignity by not publicly criticizing Jonathan.
Not even ex-head of state General Muhammadu Buhari could be faulted for publicly criticizing Jonathan. For some unknown reasons, a suspicious offer of dialogue/ceasefire purportedly from Boko Haram, mischievously mentioned General Buhari as an acceptable peace negotiator for Boko Haram. President Jonathan has not only discredited the genuineness of the group offering a negotiated settlement but also the very idea of peace offer at all. General Buhari was therefore correct by dismissing, earlier than Jonathan, the idea of ceasefire by an unknown group.
Neither should Jonathan (as portrayed by his aides) be upset because General Buhari pointed to Federal Government as comprising Boko Haram. Goodluck Jonathan himself was the first to give that indication when he (Jonathan) revealed to Nigerians that there are Boko Haram members in his cabinet, the Armed Forces and the police. Who therefore were the ex-heads of states Jonathan claimed were undermining his regime? Surely, as explained above, not General Buhari. And who among the rest – General Yakubu Gowon, Shehu Shagari, General Ibrahim Babangida and General Abdulsalami Abubakar? Sometime, someday, Jonathan himself would become ex-president and therefore would not consider it fair for his successor(s) to accuse him of sabotage without any evidence. Since Obasanjo left office in 1979, who succeeded or posed a threat to his record that he did not undermine?
He has this superiority complex and self-centredness that induce his idea that only he (among Nigerian leaders alive and dead) knows best. Everybody at one time or the other had been on Obasanjo’s list – Zik, Awo, Shagari, Buhari, Babangida, Abacha, Abdusalami Abubakar, the late Umaru Yar’Adua and now Goodluck Jonathan. Much as Jonathan can defend himself, there are aspects of such an exercise from which protocol might inhibit him. Such inhibition is therefore being brushed aside for the necessary critical assessment of Obasanjo’s latest multi-dimensional sting. First, Obasanjo went outside Nigeria in far away Senegal to warn that revolution by Nigerian youths was inevitable under Goodluck Jonathan unless the situation changed.
Two, Obasanjo ridiculed all efforts so far under the Jonathan regime to contain the Boko Haram insurgency. In the process, Obasanjo not only portrayed President Jonathan as weak but also prided himself (Obasanjo) with his crimes against humanity in Odi, (Bayelsa State) and Zaki Biam in Benue State. The third point on which Obasanjo, albeit indirectly, picked on Jonathan was that local governments should be granted complete fiscal autonomy from state government. In so doing, Obasanjo self-servingly created the impression that the political/constitutional anomaly between states and local governments was created by Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. On all these three issues, there is no way only Jonathan can be held responsible or that the controversies were not there unattended to throughout Obasanjo’s tenure from 1999 to 2007.
How much effort did Obasanjo make to solve any of the controversies on which he today pontificates? We must therefore go to the beginning of the story even if, for the purposes of argument, we concede that Jonathan is today in the saddle as the buck stops on his table. When Obasanjo was leaving office as a military ruler in 1979, his parting gift was that only a particular person would succeed him and another particular person would not succeed him. Since then, this particular strange mentality pervades our polity, such that even state governors now exhibit the same arrogance of insisting on who will succeed them, always a personal choice.
Such candidate is usually not necessarily the choice of the party and is always in defiance of the wishes of party members at state or federal level, even in states ruled by the opposition. Both the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and his running mate (now) President Goodluck Jonathan (earlier respectively as Governors of Katsina and Bayelsa states) never had further ambition but for Obasanjo who defied Nigeria and imposed both men on the country.
To worsen matters, when Yar’Adua was lying ill, the same Obasanjo callously at a public function in Abuja said Yar’Adua should know the honourable thing to do. In so doing, Obasanjo had ulterior motive but not in any way some love for Jonathan. Instead, Obasanjo was having it back at Yar’Adua who early in his regime, reversed some major decisions he inherited from Obasanjo. Equally when, on Yar’Adua’s death, Jonathan was weighing his options on whether to contest in 2011 or not, (as presidential candidate) the same Obasanjo forced Jonathan to contest, all with the hope of resuming his indirect rule of Nigeria through Jonathan.
Even early this year when Jonathan dared Nigerians by increasing fuel prices astronomically, protesters spread through Kaduna, Kano, Ibadan, PortHarcourt but most strategically in Lagos, and the nation came to a standstill. Jonathan was sweating virtually in regret of his decision. Eventually, who sabotaged Nigerian protesters? The same Obasanjo who in his notorious duplicity, employed his agents in a key media house to carry a report about him (Obasanjo) calling on Jonathan to save Nigeria. In actual fact, as protesters withdrew to refurbish their family with foodstuffs that weekend, it was Obasanjo who advised Jonathan to release heavily armed soldiers on venue of the peaceful protest. If therefore today, Jonathan merits criticism on his performance, such surely should not come from Obasanjo.
What is more, such criticisms are borne out of Obasanjo’s loss of influence and relevance in Jonathan’s administration. The impression should not be gained that Jonathan is necessarily being ungrateful to his benefactor. On the other hand, there is nothing in Obasanjo’s record to show him as ever grateful to any benefactor. Obasanjo’s inciting speech at Senegal on the prospects of revolution against Jonathan’s regime was the second time. He made the first speech, similar in content and purpose, at Geneva last time. No ex-head of state with unrestricted access to an incumbent should be seen in such posture.
A well-meaning Obasanjo should have given his critical observations to Jonathan in the privacy of Aso Rock. In another vein, portents of potential public revolt piled up under the rule of President Obasanjo with ministers and state governors reveling in the new atmosphere of impunity in stealing billions of naira and dollars of public funds. Till today, state governors and especially ministers who served under the Obasanjo regime are employing series of legal obstacles to escape jail terms for assets they cannot account. This is not to say such huge public funds are not being stolen by public office holders under the Jonathan regime. But such is a legacy from Obasanjo days.
Whatever is the situation today, why choose a foreign country to predict revolution in Nigeria? When they find themselves in that awkward situation, reputable world leaders sidestep the risk by requesting interests in such matters to be raised back in their home countries. Journalists did not even ask Obasanjo questions on situation in Nigeria. Rather, he went there to make a speech on the coming revolution in Nigeria. If any Nigerian journalist or civil rights activist had made such alarming statement, Nigerian secret police (SSS) would at best have stopped him on arrival back in Nigeria for some stupid interrogation or stop him at the airport when next he tries to travel out. Despite criticisms from many quarters, Jonathan should maintain the present carrot/stick policy of engaging the Boko Haram insurgents in possible dialogue while at the same time containing their violence.
No less insensitive was the attempt to play politics with the controversial issue of fiscal autonomy for local governments in the country. For the entire duration of his tenure of eight years as elected President, Obasanjo never thought of amending the constitution to provide for direct allocation of revenue to local councils from the Federation Account. Lately, the same Obasanjo was expressing his support for the financial autonomy of local governments. The impression was therefore wrongly created that either the Federal Government or President Goodluck Jonathan could unilaterally grant the autonomy to local governments. Towards that end, Obasanjo claimed that after all, the Federal Government does not withhold or tamper with revenue allocation to states.
How true from Obasanjo’s record as elected president? He withheld local government allocation from Lagos State government under Bola Tinubu as governor. Obasanjo’s grouse was that over 30 newly created local governments in Lagos State were unconstitutional. Lagos State government challenged Obasanjo’s unconstitutional act at the law courts up to Supreme Court, all of which ruled that Obasanjo had no right under the constitution to withhold any revenue allocation due to states or local governments. Notwithstanding those court rulings, Obasanjo refused to comply. When he left office in 2007, newly elected President Umaru Yar’Adua released the accumulated allocations to Lagos State government.
That is still the law till today and President Jonathan cannot unilaterally breach the constitution to by-pass state governments and release the revenue allocation to local governments. Should any revolution occur in Nigeria, nobody can predict the mode, magnitude, duration or potential victims/targets. But it must be noted that, for the umpteenth time, Obasanjo is in the forefront of prophets of doom and gloom.