At last, President Muhammadu Buhari has joined the fray. He has thrown his hat into the ring. For some time now, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has been gnawing at Buhari’s feet. He has been provoking the president into a confrontation. But Buhari has maintained a dignified silence. He did not appear prepared for the provocation. But that was then. Buhari has finally broken his silence. Both men are now openly at war. They may go for a drag-out fight if they do not apply the brakes.
In this matter, Obasanjo is the aggressor. He fired the first salvo. He spoke truth to power. He told the president in clear terms that he has failed as president of Nigeria and should not seek a second term in office. He advised Buhari to consider taking a dignified exit from power and join the league of statesmen in the country.
Buhari, certainly, did not enjoy Obasanjo’s diatribe.
What was Obasanjo’s grouse with Buhari? Obasanjo said the president was clannish. That the president has made himself an idol of the tribe by running a government that is dominated by his kinsmen. He also told the president, among other things, that he has failed to secure the country he swore to protect. Obasanjo did not mince words. He was unequivocal about it. But the former president did not really say anything that many Nigerians have not been saying. He merely reechoed the popular views about the president. What made the difference was Obasanjo’s personality. His interjection took the issue away from any form of partisanship, real or imagined. It imbued the matter with urgency. Before Obasanjo intervened, Nigerians of whatever persuasion had been scandalised by the president’s actions. His appointments were incredibly lopsided. Well-meaning Nigerians could not come to terms with it. They said all that they needed to say but the president would not be bothered. He treated their objections with disdain. Somehow, some people overlooked the president and his ways and moved on, believing that what has a beginning must have an end.
But there was one thing they could not ignore, the incessant bloodletting that the Fulani herdsmen are inflicting on Nigeria. Suddenly, Boko Haram was no longer the issue. The killer herdsmen who appeared to enjoy the protection of the security agencies became the new nightmare. Today, Nigerians cannot believe what is going on in their land. The country has never been this insecure. The people are asking why. They cannot understand why government cannot track down the killers and prosecute them. Then, as if the complacency or complicity of government were not enough, the same government is asking Nigerians to surrender any firearms in their possession. Yet, there is a murderous gang terrorising the country. Government has not deemed it fit to go after them. That is clearly failure of security. That is why some prominent Nigerians like Theophilus Danjuma and Wole Soyinka are asking Nigerians to defend themselves.
This formed the basis of Obasanjo’s rejection of the Buhari presidency. It is for this and other reasons that he has advised Buhari to forget a second term in office. But Buhari would have none of that. He is irked by Obasanjo’s position. Consequently, he has gone ahead to declare his interest in the presidency for 2019. For Obasanjo and Buhari, the battle line is drawn. Both are in a supremacy contest. Who wins? Who loses? This is where we are now.
Given the seriousness of the situation, Buhari has decided not to fight shy. He has stepped into the ring to do battle with Obasanjo. That explains his direct response to Obasanjo two days ago. Buhari has told Obasanjo to stop gloating. He has told the former president to stop acting holier-than-thou. He has reminded Obasanjo of his years as president. He is asking Obasanjo to account for the $16 billion allegedly spent by him on power projects during his tenure as president. Obasanjo has since denied spending such a colossal sum on power projects and has gone ahead to accuse the president of ignorance and gossip-mongering.
As things stand, the two retired generals are set to fight to the finish. But the issue weighs heavily on the side of the president. His second term bid is at stake. Obasanjo is massing up forces against him. If Buhari fails in the venture, he would, like Goodluck Jonathan, only have tales of regret to tell. What constitutes a bigger challenge to Buhari is that his opponent, Obasanjo, has travelled this road before. During the countdown to the 2015 presidential elections, Obasanjo charged at Jonathan the same way he is charging at Buhari now. He told Jonathan as he has told Buhari now to forget a second term in office. Jonathan, like Buhari, did not listen. The rest of the story is now history. So, is history about to repeat itself? That is a matter of conjecture. This is especially so since the Jonathan and Buhari circumstances are not the same.
Jonathan, we must admit, did not fight hard to retain his position. He allowed negative forces to overwhelm him. He failed to take charge where and when situation demanded. That was why his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), became a lame duck as the elections were approaching. The PDP was incapacitated by Jonathan’s seemingly care-free disposition. That was why it was complaining against the electoral commission. It accused the commission of working for the main opposition party. The allegations it levelled against the commission were largely true. But the president made it possible. That was why he ended up being a victim of his inaction.
Buhari might have learnt one or two lessons from Jonathan’s fall. He might have reasoned that Jonathan crashed owing to his complacent disposition. Buhari is not prepared to do any of this. He looks set to confront Obasanjo eyeball to eyeball. Who then blinks first? That is the crux of the matter. But if we want to be as dispassionate as possible in this matter, we will recognise the fact that Buhari has a Herculean task ahead. He has a lot of baggage to contend with. How, for instance, will the president deal with the issue of herdsmen’s murderous march? So far, he has not been credited with any concrete step towards reining in the herdsmen. A large crop of Nigerians are agitated over this. Does the president have a winning formula here? There is no indication as yet that he does.
The situation is much more complicated for Buhari because he does not believe, in the first place, that there is anything he is not doing right. His response to those who accuse him of clannishness is that Mike Ahamba, SAN, a Christian and an Igboman, was his lawyer when he fought against his loss in the 2003 presidential election. So, where is the bias, where is the clannishness, he seemed to be asking us, if he could use an Igboman for such a crucial battle? For the president, that settles the charge of Igbophobia or clannishness being levelled against him. On the murderous activities of the Fulani herdsmen, the president has no response. He did not address the issue. So, where do we go from here? Only time has the answer.