One of the many bad habits that seems to hold us hostage as citizens of Nigeria, is that we tend to forget too easily. Whether that was one of the reasons why Nigerians were once described as the “happiest people” on earth, remains debatable. However, the truth is that we have only moments to focus on one event before it is overtaken by the next. And we move on. This cannot be a virtue that any country needs to move progressively to greatness.
For anyone who has a sense of history and still remembers his presidency, the breathtaking and predictable authoritarian manner by which he governed Nigeria for eight years, you will heave with anger at the recent launch of broadsides at President Buhari by former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. But, that should not surprise anyone, anymore, because OBJ is a sampler of the fact that power is an amplifier. It is like money; it reveals one’s real personality. Severe criticism of his successors is his pastime. It’s like an oxygen that keeps him going. Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun state made that point even more pungent during Obasanjo’s birthday event recently.
It is in this context that we can properly situate his January 23 strongly worded missive to President Buhari, in which he wrote off Buhari’s performance in critical sectors, the economy, corruption, national security, just to mention a few. His conclusion is: Buhari should drop his ambition for a second term next year, because, in his view, Buhari has so underperformed to merit a second tenure.
Is Obasanjo right in his appraisal of some of the issues he took Buhari on? Yes, of course. Has Buhari presidency secured the lives and property of Nigerians? No, he has not. On the contrary, under the president’s watch, Nigeria has witnessed the worst killings ever in peace time. Today, we are living on knife edge. Many other areas call for urgent leadership attention, and this government is frustratingly slow in responding to these national emergencies.
But, what we are experiencing today under Buhari presidency is not remarkably different from what Nigerians went through in Obasanjo 8-years in power, including his failed vaulting ambition to stay in power beyond the Constitutionally allowed two-term limits. Perhaps, Obasanjo faired worse. My beef with Obasanjo’s unrelenting attacks on Buhari’s administration should not be misconstrued: Clearly, this government has not lived up to public expectations. It has also squandered a lot of public trust that brought it into office.
Nevertheless, Obasanjo is a hypocrite. A hypocrite loses his footing the very moment he holds others accountable to the standards he couldn’t keep. Let’s not forget: OBJ government was a shaggy dog story that still troubles the mind. Some of problems we are still battling today were the mess he left behind. Late Umaru Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s baggage was part of Obasanjo’s legacy, forget that, as has become his habit, launched attacks upon attacks against them. Jonathan can tell the rest of his own travails in the hands of his own political godfather. Only if he had hearken to the warning of former Governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa that he(Jonathan) risked been “abandoned by God” if he failed to pander to the whims and fancies of Obasanjo.
The fact that still rankles is that remembering OBJ’s government is like taking us into the sick, little world of the idee fixe, obsessed, self-appointed ‘Messiah’, holy grail statesman, who confused his nation’s destiny with his own. His missteps while in office, both as a military and civilian Head of state, comes close to what Plutarch said of some leaders, that “the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of vice and virtue in men”. Plutarch argued that some times, a “matter of less moment, an expression of jest informs us of better than most famous sieges, the greatest armaments or the bloodiest battles”. I guess Obasanjo will understand this as a former soldier, just as
Plutarch was. It’s interesting, perhaps ironical, to hear Obasanjo telling Buhari not to seek re-election. I thought he would have left Buhari’s fate in the hands of Nigerian voters. That’s what a true democrat should do. But, he has caught himself in his own web of contradictions. Let’s refresh our minds a bit: In 2001,two clear years before Obasanjo was due to seek re-election, his aides were all over the place, saying,” No vacancy in Aso Rock”. Chief Tony Anenih was the ‘Mr. fixer’. He warned everybody who had presidential ambition to forget it.
At the foundation ceremony of the FRCN-FM station in Benin City, this is what Anenih said, “President Obasanjo is the reason why Nigeria has remained one entity”. If he (Obasanjo) was not President, Anenih had argued, “Nigerians would have taken to the streets, fighting themselves”. Can you beat that? Anenih repeated same statement in Port Harcourt, Rivers State a week later at a rally in which the then Rivers state governor Dr. Peter Odili was returned unopposed for run for a second term. Anyone that had a contrary opinion was shouted down.
Has Obasanjo forgotten too soon that what Anenih did was to enforce his will? Even voices from abroad warned of the impending danger of shutting out other aspirants. Such was the tension in Nigeria, foisted by Obasanjo’s inordinate ambition that the Washington Post, America’s influential newspaper in its edition of March 21,2001,warned that “hope is fading in Nigeria”. The paper listed the signs, and said: “this is what happens when you start running for re-election two years earlier. You can’t make tough choices because you try to give everyone something. It stinks politically”. Obasanjo even went further to attempt amending the Constitution to pave the way for unlimited tenure for himself. But he failed.
When we needed an inclusive leader, Obasanjo gave us an authoritarian president. This is not been harsh on the former president. His first daughter, Sen. (Dr.) Iyabo-Obasanjo Bello also said similar thing in an interview in Daily Sun, March 23,2004. She said, “I think, to some extent, my father is autocratic. It’s his personality”.
And Buhari, many say, is now walking that skippering path. He should watch it: Every failed president starts the very moment he considers himself answerable to no one, and a peculiar notion that the law is made to serve his political personal interests. That’s what ‘small men’ do. Great men avoid such self-destruct paths.