Obasanjo and burden of a postmaster general

As former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo stirred up a hornets’ nest with another letter to President Muhammadu BUhari, Group Politics Editor, KUNLE ODEREMI writes on some of his propositions.

On Saturday, July 13, 2019, some eminent persons engaged in an intense verbal exchange over an initiative proposed by the leadership of a pro-democracy and human rights organization to save the country from the ‘abyss of despondency.’  But the mode of how to make the struggle more purposeful and effective and result oriented became a major issue of intellectual debate with some very vocal members of the group insisting that they would only go headlong into the democratic fight on a number of stringent terms. They premised their seemingly uncompromising position on the fact that the battle for Nigerians to claim ownership of their country had been largely based on mere talks  instead of real action. Therefore, they came up with an eight-point agenda that should form the template or road map for the planned sustained action to rescue the country from the cliff‘s hanger.

The road map comprised sending of letters to demand for constitutional change to every member of the National Assembly; demand for a joint sitting of the National Assembly to listen to and accept proposals for constitutional change and legalisation of referendum; setting up of a committee to draft an Executive Bill for the enactment of a new Federal Constitution to be directed at President Muhammadu Buhari; publication of an enlightenment document on the Fundamental Principles of Federal Constitution; state police  not  grafted to a unitary constitution; a public statement directing all regions that are desirous of being an autonomous region to begin the process of drafting their respective regional constitutions. The agenda also include pressure on the North Central zone to key into the demand of the other five zones for constitutional reform; plan and mobilise for a one-day every month sit-at-home action from October 1, 2019 and above all, initiate a series of legal challenges to the Unitary Provisions of the 1999 Constitution. Such legal suits will be filed in Nigeria, ECOWAS court and the International Court of Justice, as well as campaigns at the United Nations.

By sheer coincidence, former president, Chief Olusegun  Obasanjo unveiled his third letter to President Muhammadu Buhari on the frightening state of the nation, with a stern warning that Nigeria was at the ‘tipping point.’ Obasanjo’s letter is coming at a time that every Human Development Index (HID) in Nigeria is scary. For instance, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says Nigeria has the lowest life expectancy as the lowest in the West African sub-region. It stands at 53.7 years for men.  According to the National Bureau of Statistics, no fewer than 3.3 million Nigerians tripped to the unemployed bracket between December 2017 and September 2018 thereby swelling the overall number of such Nigerians in that category to 20.9 million. Today, an estimated 91.6 million Nigerians are said to be victims of extreme poverty. The real sector, power and infrastructure that ought to serve as the engine and catalyst for economic growth and development to stem unemployment, job losses and banditry are in dire straits. Death seems to have become the cheapest commodity, as cases of insurgency, banditry, abduction and kidnapping are prevalent across the country.   And lately, Nigerians have gone beyond discussing the crises bedeviling their country in hushed tones. Both traditional and social media platforms are buzz with issues bordering on the parlous state of the snoring giant of Africa that was once touted as the medium superpower.

In his second letter that was released in January, Obasanjo had alleged a plot by the president and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), about “his own self-succession project,” in collusion with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He further alleged that the government had abdicated its responsibility to a clique with a myopic interest. His words: “We have been told that governance has been abdicated to a cabal. Now, campaigning has been abdicated to ‘jagaban.’ Though Obasanjo claimed that he had been “threatened with arrest and extermination,” he would “not succumb to intimidation or threats.”  He said that contrary to the claim by the government that it had overrun the insurgent group, the authorities were involved in a double-deal with the insurgents. “Boko Haram is stronger today militarily than they have ever been. Boko Haram has also been empowered by the Nigerian government.” Obasanjo had equally accused Buhari of intimidating and harassing the National Assembly and the judiciary to cow them to submission. Obasanjo also likened Buhari’s administration to that of the late Gen Sani Abacha.

Unlike his previous letters, Obasanjo painted a grim future for the country in his latest letter. With the benefit of hindsight, the former military head of state strongly believed all indices for an implosion of an unimaginable proportion exist in the land. Perhaps, it was for this reason that even some of his most ardent critics contended that the content of the letter rather than the messenger  should engage the attention of all well-meaning Nigerians.  “To be explicit and without equivocation, Mr President and Buhari, I am deeply worried about four avoidable calamities: abandoning  Nigeria  into the hands of criminals who are  all being suspected, rightly or wrongly, as  Fulani and terrorists of Boko Haram  type; spontaneous  or planned reprisal attacks against Fulani which  may inadvertently or advertently mushroom into  pogrom or Rwanda-type genocide that we did not believe could happen and yet it happened. Similar attacks against any other tribe or ethnic group anywhere in the country initiated  by rumours, fears, intimidation and revenge capable of leading to pogrom; violent uprising  beginning  from one section  of the country  and spreading  quickly  to other areas  and leading to dismemberment  of the  country.

“It happened to Yugoslavia not too long ago. If we do not act now, one or all of these scenarios may happen. We must pray and take effective actions at the same time. The initiative is in  the hands of the President  of the nation, but he cannot do it  alone.  In my part of the world, if you  are sharpening your  cutlass and a mad man comes from behind to take the cutlass from you, you need other people’s assistance to have your cutlass back without being harmed. The mad men with serious criminal intent and terrorism as core value have taken cutlass of security.  The need for assistance  to regain control is obviously compelling and must be embraced now,” Obasanjo stated in the letter.


What does Obasanjo want?

Some have questioned why he resorts to either writing letters to express and convey his opinion and suggestions concerning the state of affairs since he enjoys the honour and privilege of access to whoever was in power as a former Nigerian head of state and civilian president. Others raised the issue of why he appears to be the only former Nigerian leader that often takes on the authorities openly and in s combative manner. There are other critics who believe his actions are usually informed by ego and need to remain relevant politically.

But a lot of observers noted that Obasanjo that facilitated the success of the incumbent president being elected president in 2015 after failing in three attempts at the poll. His associates, friends and loyalists also argue that the seeming political difference between Obasanjo and Buhari was about good governance and the overall interest of the country, as opposed to any egoistic factors as being peddled around by his detractors and adversaries.

One group that shares such position is the pan-Arewa organisation called Gan Allah Fulani Development Association of Nigeria. According to the body, President Buhari should not ignore the suggestions Obasanjo has proffered to the challenges confronting the country. The national chairman of the association, Alhaji Sale Bayari, observed: “In moving the nation forward, the government must listen to some elder statesmen irrespective of whatever their political view or affiliation is. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is one of them. I’ve found out that if any government in Africa is to tap one-third of what is in the brain of Obasanjo and use it, Africa will be better. Similarly, West Africa and Nigeria will be better for it. Obasanjo knows our problem. And then whenever he talks and explodes sometimes, it’s because he has made efforts to be listened to without success. He’ll then feel that posterity will judge him harshly if he does not come out to tell Nigerians and the world the truth of things.”


Another national conference?

In his latest letter, Obasanjo  said he was pained to make it an open  letter because the issue is very weighty and must be greatly worrisome to all right-thinking Nigerians. He is worried that the crisis facing the country had to do with the “foundation of our existence as Nigerians.” consequently, he has proposed the convening of a national summit to proffer realistic and pragmatic solutions without further delay. “When people are desperate and feel that they cannot have confidence in the ability of government to provide security for their lives and properties, they will take recourse to anything and everything that can guarantee their security individually and collectively,” he said. all this he said was because of the ambivalence of the government on the threats posed by herdsmen/farmers crises, insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and killings across the country. “Nothing should be taken for granted, the clock is ticking with the cacophony of dissatisfaction and disaffection everywhere in and outside the country,” Obasanjo warned.

The former leader advocated a nationally accepted strategic roadmap to be produced at a national dialogue to save the country. He listed some of the major stakeholders that should partake in the dialogue to include traditional rulers, past heads of service (no matter how competent or incompetent they have been and how much they have contributed to the mess we are in), past heads of para-military organisations, private sector, civil society, community leaders particularly in the most affected areas, present and past governors, present and past local government leaders, religious leaders, past heads of state, past intelligence chiefs, past Heads of Civil Service and relevant current and retired diplomats, members of opposition and any groups that may be deemed relevant.”


2019 elections

Last year, Obasanjo issued a statement advising President Buhari not to seek reelection because of his alleged poor performance by his administration  since 2015. In the 13-page statement titled; The way out, a clarion call for coalition for Nigeria movement,” Obasanjo cited nepotism insecurity, buck-passing and lack of capacity to manage the Nigerian economy. Obasanjo had decried that nepotic deployment bordering on clannishness and inability to bring discipline to bear on errant members , had grave consequences on the performance of the Buhari government to the detriment of the nation. This was how he summarised his rating of the Buhari administration: “No human leader is expected to be personally strong or self-sufficient in all aspects of governance. I knew President Buhari before he became President and said that he is weak in the knowledge and understanding of the economy but I thought that he could make use of good Nigerians in that area that could help. Although, I know that you cannot give what you don’t have and that economy does not obey military order,” Obasanjo stated. Obasanjo accused the government of wittingly or unwittingly allowing the herders/farmers crisis to turn sour and messy, adding that, “It is no credit to the Federal Government that the herdsmen rampage continues with careless abandon and without finding an effective solution to it.”


Presidency reacts

In its response to the letters in which Obasanjo advised Buhari against seeking re-election, the presidency described the action of Obasanjo as part of the antics of ‘desperate politicians who could not handle the President politically and had resorted to subterfuge. “As repeatedly said of him, since Chief Obasanjo left office in 1979, he never let every succeeding leader of the country function freely, and this included the one he personally handpicked against all known rules drawn up by the party that put him in the office of the President. But Chief Obasanjo is jealous because President Buhari has more esteem than him and the sooner he learns to respect him the better.

“It is a notorious fact that in dealing with any leader that he failed to control, he resorted to these puerile attacks. As the grand patron, more correctly the grandfather of corruption as described by the National Assembly, Chief Obasanjo released today’s letter purely for the reason of rescuing his thriving corruption establishment. The elections starting in February will be free and fair as promised the nation and the international community by President Buhari.

“What Chief Obasanjo and his co-travelers in the Peoples Democratic party (PDP) should expect is that from the outcome, we will teach them a political lesson that they will never forget. This margin will be much bigger than we had in 2015. Claims that President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have embarked on the president’s “self- succession project, by recruiting collation officers who are already awarding results based on their projects to actualise the perpetuation agenda, in which the people will not matter and the votes will not count” is not only utterly false, but a copious note from the book on the failed third term agenda of President Obasanjo. The man, President Buhari who has taken Nigeria’s reputation to a higher level internationally and is working hard to improve on the records of elections he found in place cannot descend to the level that Obasanjo has himself sunk,” the presidency stated in a statement.


NCEF petition to UK parliament

Some senior citizens under the aegis of the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) have consistently expressed disappointment with the leadership style of President Buhari. The group comprises former top military officers, including Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro (retd), Gen. Zamani Lekwot (retd) and Gen. T. Y. Danjuma (retd)  also warned against possible implosion in the country because of the seething anger and frustration among the constituent units of the federation. The NCEF, which sent a petition to the British parliament over alleged discrimination by the Nigerian government, also parades Christian elders like Elder Solomon Asemota as chairman; Elder Moses Ihonde, Elder Shyngle Wigwe and Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife. They stated: “Our founding fathers signed on in Nigeria as a democratic country in order to guarantee justice, equality and fairness for all citizens. They did not sign on for a Sharia ideology that promotes discrimination, persecution, division and oppression on the basis of religious belief and sectional ethnic identity. This is not the dream of our founding fathers; neither is it our aspiration. “Therefore, the NCEF is calling on all Nigerians, at home and abroad, to join in the call for the supremacy of the Nigerian Constitution. Every action of the present administration that violates the Constitution, particularly Section 10, Section 38 (1) and Section 14 (3) which specifically relates to the principle of federal character in appointments should be reversed and all cases of injustice, inequality and unfairness in government appointments should be redressed forthwith.

But the Government dismissed the allegation by the group that the Buhari administration was practising bigotry and alienating Christians. The denial was contained in a letter to the British Parliamentary Group, signed by Nigeria’s High Commissioner to UK, Justice George Adetola Oguntade (retd) to Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, a former secretary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and now Head, “Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Support of Persecuted Christians, “and Baroness Berridge, the Chair of “All Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief.  “The safety and security of all Nigerians, whatever their faith, is a fundamental priority of the Buhari Government. The government knows that Nigeria can only achieve its potential if there is religious tolerance and cooperation,” the government said.

However, the call for a national summit has stirred another debate among various interest groups in the polity. Many of the groups and leaders that reacted spontaneously when Obasanjo released his open letter on Monday was that such gathering might not go far enough in achieving peace and stability in the country. In their opinion, such summit will be one conference too many since the report of the 2014 National Conference can take an adequate care of the core challenges facing the country. The recommendations include the clamour for restructuring, power devolution, resource control, citizenship and form and type of government, all of which form the heart of the various agitations among the ethnic nationalities in the country. The reports of similar conferences, including the one convoked by the Obasanjo presidency in 2005 remain on the shelf gathering dust. But there are other stakeholders, who believe that the summit proposed by Obasanjo could serve as a balm on frayed nerves over the multifaceted grievances being expressed against the Buhari administration.

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