Categories: ColumnsShola Oshunkeye

Buhari and The Letter-writing Generals

Two weeks. Two letters. Three geriatric Generals. If we were to turn the events of the past two weeks or so to a book, those seven words would be apt as its title. It is the story of two letter-writing Generals and another General who, shall we say, is being pressured to play against the run of play.

Although the events have elicited diverse reactions, if we do not misread the situation, they should trigger at least three things: set the tone for the race to 2019; mark the turning point in the life of the Muhammadu Buhari Administration, for better or for worse, depending on how the regime processes the letters; and third, lead Nigeria to hell or paradise. It all depends on where the pendulum swings.   

Within two weeks, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who helped enthrone candidate Buhari as President in 2015, and General Ibrahim Babangida, an age-long adversary of the incumbent President, fired two missiles. Both advising the President not to run in 2019 but return to Daura to enjoy his well-deserved final retirement. Obasanjo, under who Buhari served as Petroleum Minister during his (OBJ’s) first coming as Military Head of State (1976-1979), fired the first salvo. In it, he decried the President’s handling of the economy, slow response to national emergencies and nepotism, among others.

Babangida, Buhari’s Chief of Army Staff (December 31, 1983-August 27, 1985), went the same way as Obasanjo, last Sunday, building a case against his erstwhile boss. Calling for a paradigm shift in 2019, the self-styled former Military President advised Nigerians to “cooperate with President Muhammadu Buhari to complete his term of office on May 29th, 2019 and collectively prepare the way for new generation leaders to assume the mantle of leadership of the country.”

Both letters elicited diverse reactions, nationwide. While some were acerbic, others were sarcastic, a lot more were forthright. But while Obasanjo’s letter was unambiguous and straight to the point, Babangida’s letter and developments that followed were true to character. Dramatic. Very inconsistent. The letter, released by Kassim Afegbua, IBB’S media aide, last Sunday, hit the nation like a bolt from the blue. However, the real drama began to unfold few hours after its release when a rebuttal purportedly signed by the General himself surfaced and set both the traditional media and social media on fire. Before sunset the same day, Babangida would tell ThisDay, on phone, that he stood by the original statement but regretted that Nigerians had wrongly processed his message.

So, who bears the brunt? Kassim Afegbua. The Police promptly declared him wanted for spreading false information and for an act capable of inciting the people. But Afegbua was all smiles when he emerged from the Force Headquarters, Abuja, on Tuesday, with his lawyer and friends. He told journalists that he had a “friendly meeting” with the police and that the police actually apologised to him for embarrassing him and impugning his character.

On Thursday, Afegbua kept a date with the Department of State Services, DSS. They kept him for seven hours only to ask him to return the following day.  On Friday, the man was grilled for two hours. He emerged from the DSS interrogation to alert the world that his life was in danger. He said he had been receiving all kinds of threats on his phone from unidentified callers. I doubt if this would mark the end of the drama.

Curiously, while all these played out, not a word came out of Hilltop Mansion in Minna. A case of the grass getting crushed when two elephants fight? Maybe. It is easy to play politics and parry the issues raised by Obasanjo and Babangida. It is quite convenient to describe them as self-serving. The temptation to do so is strong based on the antecedents of the two. First, Obasanjo, who during his time as President wanted term extension, is widely perceived as egoistic and someone who has terrible disdain for anyone that attempts to outshine him. On his part, Babangida is perceived as a hawkish traitor. For instance, he served as General Buhari’s Chief of Staff (during the former’s first coming as Military Head of State), yet toppled him after only 20 months at the helm. Indeed, some analysts have posited that Babangida’s bombshell read like some verses from his 1985 coup speech. With echoes of August 27, 1985 ringing loud as ever, there is no love lost between Buhari and Babangida. Add that to what IBB did to his bosom friends, General Mamman Vasta and M.K.O. Abiola, and you would understand why there may be no end to the animosity between him and Buhari.

Despite their idiosyncrasies and personal records, it would be suicidal for the administration to dismiss the issues raised by the two former Generals/ex-Presidents as idle generalisations. Like Buhari, they have been there before. They can feel the people’s pulse.  They know how public opinion and perception can affect situations like the type Nigerians are currently groaning under. They also know how to manipulate people and events to serve predetermined goals. They have come a long way. What is more, when Obasanjo talks about Nigeria, the world listens. You can only ignore people like them at your own peril.   

In any case, the administration can do with some home truths. The truth is, despite the government’s best efforts, opposition to the President gathers momentum by the hour. Public umbrage against the administration is unrelenting. Much as the briefs by Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun inspire hope, at least on paper, Nigerians who fight the battle of their lives to get two meals a day think the woman’s statistics must have tumbled from Mars. To them, the economy remains in the woods as long as their tummies remain flattened to their backs.

Similarly, Babatunde Fashola’s constant claim of Nigeria generating an ‘unprecedented’ 7,000 megawatts of power may sound like good music to the ear. In reality, when you weigh that output against the rising number of unconnected homes and communities, as well as the burgeoning fuel budgets of families in running their private power plants (generators), the Minister’s claims fall flat like a house of cards. They become nothing but a classical metaphor for darkness. His claim that the DISCOs are unable to distribute 2000 megawatts not only reinforces that metaphor, it also constitutes a monumental insult on Nigerians who suffer insomnia arising from the searing heat which denies them of sound sleep at night.

Although the government has done a lot in improving national security and its war against corruption, its seeming aloofness to the murderous gangs that masquerade as herdsmen, butchering people all over the country, remains a big dent on its record. I will sound like a broken record if I continue with the checklist of the administration’s deficiencies. Like the letter-writing geriatric Generals, I’ll be saying nothing new. 

Despite the surging public resentment against the Buhari Administration, the General’s letters notwithstanding, and regardless of the gradual momentum being gained by the opposition, I’m yet to see any force, third or fourth, that can easily dust the President should he chose to throw his cap into the ring.

First, I had thought the coalition that Obasanjo talked about in his missile would take off on a solid launch pad, blasting off with all cylinders firing. I didn’t see that the other day when the former President led his motley crowd to Iwe Irohin Press Centre in Abeokuta to register. The crowd was scanty. Their song was flat. There was little enthusiasm. The birth of the coalition was so jumbled I wondered whether Obasanjo had not delivered a Third Farce in place of a Third Force. What I saw was a force that almost had no wings to fly.

What is more, the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, still seems to be droning in the dreamland it has been marooned since losing the 2015 general elections. There is no concrete evidence to indicate that it has recovered and is sound enough to regain power.

However, that should not make the ruling APC clash the cymbals or go to bed thinking that 2019 would be a walk-over. No contest. It can only do so at its peril. Whether OBJ’s Third Force refuses to fly or dies on arrival, it should offer little comfort to the Administration because the people are hurting. And nobody monkeys with an unusual phenomenon like the Ebora Owu, as he likes being massaged, at a time like this.

Even if his motives were questionable, even if they were all about Obasanjo, even if he is a terrible narcissist that is capable of extreme selfishness and has a grandiose view of his own talents, and always craving for admiration, the man, through that Epistle to Buhari, struck a chord with common Nigerians. He beamed a powerful light on what Nigerians live with and talk about sorrowfully every day, everywhere.

President Buhari needs to listen to the message even if he hates the messenger. He needs to regain the confidence of Nigerians. The APC needs to be sensitive to the people’s cries and engender policies that would make life better and more dignifying for Nigerians. The President and his party need to renew hope for Nigerians. Happily, his current tour of Narasarawa, Adamawa, Benue and Taraba States has revealed that he has not only woken up to the herdsmen’s irritation, he also has solid political following that can help him ride any storm. He needs to build on that. However, if he feels tired, and his body and mind tell him to rest, he must follow his heart. He must plug his ears against the falsity of deceitful aides, the selfish cacophony of dishonest politicians and the devilish deception of false prophets and marabouts, and retire. And help groom a new generation of leaders that would steer our ship of state to the Promised Land.

God bless Nigeria.


Tribute: Dr Eugene Anyaegbunam Mgbojike

As Fondly Remembered

“FirST meeting of the 1946 freshmen class of Dennis Memorial Grammar School …We were going to run a cross-country race to acquaint ourselves with one another … Eugene was the second scrawniest looking at the time… Over the years, he grew up a handsome guy. The race started and when it ended, Eugene placed second out of the original sixty students. Apparently, this was a message, because, throughout the remaining five years at the school, Eugene placed first in all the academic testing/examinations”

– Dr. Cyril Akpom

“You were a great advocate for education. I believe truly that you were one of those who believed that it is more blessed to give than to receive… you educated everybody in the family” – Nye Nye (Mrs. Eunice Ebie)

“My uncle was not easily rattled. He remains calm when everybody else around him is competing for who will scream or argue loudest. In the midst of all the uproar, he would be sipping his beer and would leave immediately the bottle of beer finishes”.

– Nneka and Chis Asoluka

“Dr. Mgbojikwe was indeed a friend, brother, teacher, mentor, confidant and by divine arrangement, my beloved in-law. We maintained our good relationship even after I quit medical practice and engaged in full-time business and management consultancy”.

– Nkemka Osimiri Jombo-Ofo

“His humility knew no boundaries. He was a friend’s friend in the real sense of the word. He would give up his own life to stand by or die for his friend”.

– Chief Gerald Amaechi Amazu (Ezugo Oba)

“He was an avid tennis player. He founded and funded the Premier Tennis Club and was the first patron. He had a good fore hand driver but later on, he perfected the skyscraper lob which proved difficult for opponents to handle”.

– Emeritus Professor O. P Okonkwo, FAS OON

“Over the years I grew to love him too because of his many attributes. He was caring and a very good listener. He always listened, however trivial the problem was. He was always there for everyone. He was a role model to so many of his friends”.

– Pharm. (Chief) Mrs. Stella C. Brown.

“Dr Eugene Mgbojikwe taught me humility, humanness and peaceful way of life. Each moment I spent with him during his life time was encyclopedic”

– Chijioke Okibe Esq.

“Eugene was a gentleman, a pleasant companion, straightforward in all his relationships with everyone”.

– Sir Prof. Joshua C. & Lady Dr. Elizabeth P. Ogbonnaya

“It is a fact though that death will come when it will, even though Eugene’s death confirms to me that we are never prepared for the death of someone we love dearly. I miss Eugene and our warm easy brotherhood and of course, his hearty laughter, bottle of beer, teasing, and stories”.

– Prof. Jo Irukwu

“More Than a Brother

I write in shock and disbelief,

I write with sadness beyond relief,

That you left the scene,

You, that was evergreen . . . .

“Throughout our lives, you have demonstrated that one does not need to be verbose and flamboyant to participate and be available to family and friends. You were the personification of the expression “wealth whispers.”

– Ifeyinwa Osime & Chiedu Ebie

“I had a medical emergency… when I arrived at Eugene’s clinic, he was already there awaiting my arrival and shortly after operated on me.

This was an experience that could not be forgotten and left me in awe of him to this moment”. – Obie Nwadiogbu

“You fought very hard in spite of all odds to see that we attained good educational level, even though due to ignorance and environmental factors, some of us did not cherish it and there was nobody on hand to counsel or advise us otherwise… this must have caused you terrible pain. We have realized this and wish to honour your vision by ensuring that all our siblings are well-educated”.

– Ifeoma Uzo Igboanugo (Nee Mgbojikwe)

“Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, verse 2 assures us that, to everything, there is a season, “A time to be born and a time to die.” We take consolation that you have accomplished everything God put you on this earth to do, and He has called you home to eternal glory”.

– Chinwe Ofor (Nee Mgbojikwe)

He was enigmatic, reserved, quiet and a private man in a deeper perhaps even more fundamental way. He led a simple and uncluttered life, free and without restrictions, a sentiment with which all forward thinkers can identify.

– Bijou Ify Mbgojikwe (Daughter)

These wonderful tributes, as exemplars, will certainly continue to guide me throughout life; for your life is lived in me, your laugh has lifted me, and your word was gift to me. May you rest in peace Dad.

– Kenechukwu Eugene Mgbojikwe (Son)

“You lived life to the fullest on your own terms and enjoyed every minute of it. We shall miss you greatly, but we are confident that heaven has gained an angel”.

– Mrs Rose Mgbojikwe (Wife)

Eugene, you were more-than-a-brother,

Far more than a friend,

You stood out and were cherished

From beginning to end.

I bid you farewell with the tears of a man,

But I take solace that in eternity, “we go still jam.”

– Chief Nze Herbert Chikwe

Uche Atuma :

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