How Obasanjo’s Letter Ruffled Political Waters and Its Attendant Brickbats

How Obasanjo’s Letter Ruffled Political Waters and Its Attendant Brickbats

Before putting his pen to paper to write his now famous letter to the youth of Nigeria, former President Olusegun Obasanjo knew he was stirring the hornet’s nest. But, as a courageous soldier, a retired General in the Nigerian Army, he is not one to shy away from a good fight. All his previous letters

Before putting his pen to paper to write his now famous letter to the youth of Nigeria, former President Olusegun Obasanjo knew he was stirring the hornet’s nest. But, as a courageous soldier, a retired General in the Nigerian Army, he is not one to shy away from a good fight. All his previous letters have been very unsettling to his targets: past and present Presidents and even individuals because he is reputed to speak truth to power; blunt and vitriolic. His letters often dwell on themes that resonate resoundingly with the masses of Nigerians. And his timing is always topnotch; often at the twilight of an incumbent government.

Like or hate him, Obasanjo stands in a class of his own among all the past Heads of State and Presidents. He neither prevaricates on issues nor shies away from taking a position; rightly or wrongly. Obasanjo is by birth of Owu sub-ethnic stock in Abeokuta, Ogun state, but they are well dispersed within the western part of Nigeria and beyond. They are acknowledged for their many wars where they did exploits. Obasanjo’s outspokenness almost caused him his life once, when he and his then deputy as Military Head of State Musa Yar’Adua were framed for participating in a coup against the government of General Sani Abacha in 1995.

Though the coup has been described as phantom by historians, Obasanjo was one of its prime targets. He had spoken critically about coups and military rules in Nigeria and Africa. Though Obasanjo was abroad while all the details and arrests of those allegedly involved were being made and had every opportunity to have remained in exile; a warrior that he is, he chose to return to his country and damned all consequences of punishment for treason or participation in a coup plot against a military junta, which most of the time could be a death sentence. He escaped death by the whiskers. He was tried and was initially sentenced to death, but a review panel reduced that to 30 years in prison and got favoured to a further reduction to 15 years. He spent only three years of his lifetime in jail and came out to be elected president less than one year after.

Now, to Obasanjo’s latest letter. From the stable of Obasanjo, the “famous letter writer” came on the first day of year 2023, a letter ruffling Nigeria’s political waters. It has obviously achieved the author’s purpose because for three days running the letter and its attendant reactions (from those that had been hit by it) have dominated the media space and burnt airtime on broadcast stations. Even the social media has been awash with arguments of those in favour and against. All those that have reacted may just have been acting according to Obasanjo’s script while he sits down enjoying the fun.

He knew the letter, like its previous predecessors, would generate these reactions, Obasanjo is a man who enjoys being the headlines. He has never written any of his letters without making the headlines. You name it: is it the Letter to President Jonathan, to Pa Edwin Clark, to President Buhari in 2019, to Alhaji Sule Lamido. They never missed being the headline.

On this occasion, Obasanjo’s letter is not individual-centered but multifaceted in targets. Like water dropping from a rolling ceiling fan it has splashed on different persons and institutions. Its content is like a buffet dinner, all the concerned to pick and chew as appropriate. In the letter addressed to the Youth, former President Obasanjo started with a pungent verdict of the Buhari regime saying “The last seven and a half years have no doubt been eventful and stressful years for many Nigerians. We have moved from frying pan to fire and from mountain top to the valley. Our leaders have done their best, but their best had turned out to be not the best for Nigeria and Nigerians at home and abroad. For most Nigerians, it was hell on earth”. Between Obasanjo and Buhari there is no love lost.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo

He proceeded to set criteria for his would-be next helmsman of the country. “I will, without prejudice, fear or ill-will, make bold to say that there are four major factors to watch out for in a leader you will consider to hoist on yourself and on the rest of Nigerians in the coming election and they are what I call TVCP: Track record of ability and performance; Vision that is authentic, honest and realistic; Character and attributes of a lady and a gentleman who are children of God and obedient to God; and Physical and mental capability with soundness of mind as it is a very taxing and tasking assignment at the best of times and more so it is at the most difficult time that we are”

Taking a swipe at some of the hyped themes of some of the presidential candidates, Obasanjo said: “Let me say straight away that ‘Emi Lokan’ (My turn) and ‘I have paid my dues’ are one and the same thing and are wrong attitude and mentality for the leadership of Nigeria now. They cannot form the new pedestal to reinvent and to invest in a new Nigeria based on an All-Nigeria Government for the liberation and restoration of Nigeria. Such a government must have representation from all sectors of our national life – public, private, civil society, professional, labour, employers, and the diaspora. The solution should be in ‘we’ and ‘us’ and not in ‘me’ and ‘I’.

Expressing his disdain for persons above 70 years old contesting the 2023 presidential election, Chief Obasanjo said: “Let me say it again, loud and clear, Nigeria has no business with insecurity, poverty, insurgency, banditry, unemployment, hunger, debt, division and disunity. We are in these situations because advertently or inadvertently, our leaders have made the choices. They have done the best they could do. Let them take their rest deservedly or not and let them enjoy their retirement as Septuagenarians or older.

“The vigour, energy, agility, dynamism and outreach that the job of leadership of Nigeria requires at the very top may not be provided as a septuagenarian or older. I know that from personal experience. And it is glaring out of our current experiences. Otherwise, we will be fed with, “The President says” and we will neither see nor hear him directly as we should. Yes, for some, age and physical and mental disposition are not in tandem”

Then he threw his sucker punch: “None of the contestants is a saint but when one compares their character, antecedent, their understanding, knowledge, discipline and vitality that they can bring to bear and the great efforts required to stay focused on the job particularly looking at where the country is today and with the experience on the job that I personally had, Peter Obi as a mentee has an edge. Others like all of us have what they can contribute to the new dispensation to liberation, restoration and salvaging of Nigeria collectively. One other important point to make about Peter is that he is a needle with thread attached to it from North and South and he may not get lost. In other words, he has people who can pull his ears, if and when necessary. Needless to say, that he has a young and able running mate with clean track record of achievement both in public and private life.”

For the major leading candidates that was a blow below the belt and a point of departure and for this sharp arrows have been thrown at Obasanjo. But Obasanjo’s style is to throw his punch and watch his opponent wriggle in pains. Predictably, attacks on Obasanjo have come in torrents some defying the rules of ethics of boxing and wrestling. He is being pummeled left, right and centre. For the government of the day, Obasanjo’s description of Nigeria as moving from frying pan to fire under President Buhari has been badly taken and rebuffed.

The government gave four reasons why Nigerians should disregard Obasanjo’s verdict on the government. One of which is that he (Obasanjo)will not stop attacking President Muhammadu Buhari because the former President won’t stop being jealous of anyone who beats him to a new record in the nation’s development process.

“Clearly, Obasanjo has become even more jealous by adopting a vengeful attitude. Four, to say that ‘frying pan to fire’ is the situation in Nigeria at this time should be read to mean a personal experience to him and we know what that means,” Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant on Media to President said in a statement adding “’Hell’ for Obasanjo is when a President, any President that comes after him refuses to be his own puppet, to do as he wishes on all matters and at all times. He then keeps attacking out of frustration.”

For the APC, Obasanjo’s endorsement of Peter Obi as his preferred candidate is a “worthless” development Obasanjo was addressed as a political paper weight who cannot win a unit in his ward. A statement by Tinubu’s Director of Media & Publicity, Bayo Onanuga, said though it respects the right of Mr Obasanjo to support and endorse any candidate of his choice in any election, his endorsement of Mr Obi is worthless. “We make bold to say that our party and candidate, Asíwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu will not lose sleep over Obasanjo’s move, as Obasanjo is notorious for always opposing progressive political forces, as he did against MKO Abiola in 1993.

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, APC presidential candidate

“The endorsement is actually worthless because the former President does not possess any political goodwill or leverage anywhere in Nigeria to make anyone win a Councillorship election let alone win a Presidential election. He is a political paperweight,” Mr Onanuga said.

And, the attacks have continued unabated. Apparently to further denigrate Obasanjo, another member of the Presidential Campaign Council of the ruling party, Mr. Dele Alake recalled that, “Atiku testified before a senate committee in 2007 and said that Obasanjo (OBJ) always send handwritten notes to Petroleum Trust Development Fund’s officials to release money to buy vehicles (cars) for his girlfriends (GFs).” He described the letter as the latest epistolary misadventure by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as a gratuitous insult on the collective intelligence of Nigerians.

“While Obasanjo’s right to support any candidate of his choice in the forthcoming presidential polls must be recognized as guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution, how condescending of him to decree his preference on Nigerians based on a cocktail of bare-faced lies and crude revisionism. In fact, there’s a widespread allegation that the latest gambit by the political busybody of Ota is part of a larger nefarious scheme to incite disorder around the country with a view to clearing the grounds for the resurrection of his favourite contraption: interim national government (ING)” Alake said.

Atiku Abubakar, PDP presidential candidate

The PDP in a statement, by its PDP Presidential Campaign Management Committee’s Director of Public Affairs, Senator Dino Melaye, said “Baba is talking of age. But America, the most civilised democracy on earth, voted for over 70. “How old was Obasanjo in 1999? How old was he when he wanted third term as president? Baba should cure himself from the inherent hatred for Atiku. Obasanjo will be alive, and Atiku will be president.

The Atiku/Okowa Presidential Campaign Organisation said the support for the Labour Party presidential candidate by Obasanjo was his personal wish, which did not reflect the opinion or position of the overwhelming majority of Nigerians across the country. The campaign said while Obasanjo was entitled to his personal opinion, “as remarkable as it may appear, it remains individualistic and cannot redirect Nigerians from their determination to rally with the more experienced, more proficient and more accepted presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, to rescue and rebuild our nation from the APC misrule.”

Peter Obi, Labour Party presidential candidate

On the flip side, the Labour Party whose candidate has been endorsed by Obasanjo is relishing the joy of having won such a significant endorsement and described him as “a patriot who wants the best for the country”, urging that his call should be supported by well-meaning Nigerians who share the same sentiments. The Chairman of the Labour Party Barrister Julius Abure said, “Obasanjo, obviously, has no other choice among all the presidential candidates aside Peter Obi. He has always been a progressive, a patriot and a man that wants the best for the country. I want to say without any fear of contradiction that Obasanjo has by this distinguished himself.

“He is a man that has the country at heart. It is, therefore, not surprising that he has endorsed Obi. We want to implore other leaders, other past presidents, other fathers of the country, like IBB, Abdulsalam Abubakar, Goodluck Jonathan and all past presidents and heads of government in the country.

Obasanjo’s Endorsement: What Value?

Obasanjo’s comment is no doubt a moral booster for the camp of Peter Obi and his supporters. But how this would translate into votes for Peter Obi is yet to be seen. The fact that Obasanjo addressed his letter to the youth is being perceived in some quarters as a ploy by the old order to manipulate the younger generation towards their predetermined goal. It is being said that there are other younger presidential candidates in the contest who could have been considered for Obasanjo’s endorsement if being a youth is a criterion.

Though Obasanjo’s letter may not have attacked the PDP or its candidate Atiku Abubakar, it dealt a big blow on the APC based on his evaluation of its seven and a half years in power which he described as dismal. He also took a direct hit at Asiwaju Tinubu its presidential candidate saying the race is not by “my turn” (E mi lokan) but “Awalokan” meaning Nigerians should take their destiny in their hands and vote someone who will improve on their living condition.

Ayo Aluko-Olokun

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