If recent media reports are to be held on to, then it may seem fascinating that it has finally dawned on President Goodluck Jonathan that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the erstwhile military Head of state and democratically elected president of Federal Republic of Nigeria, may never be somebody, like others of his kind, to trust his actions and inactions or one to bank so much on whenever there is need for serious business of governance or partisan politicking.
Though for one reason or the other President Goodluck Jonathan would be inclined to believe that he had been dealing with an elderly man who meant well for him in any way one can think of, yet the truth is that there can hardly be anything Chief Olusegun Obasanjo did or does for Jonathan either as a person or group (that is the latter as symbolic of his Niger-Delta people) in politics that is devoid of strictly personal interest. Agreed, politics is in the main all about interest. But then, a situation whereby the personal aggrandizement of one man is perniciously and continually pursued almost always at the expense of the larger group or state interest cannot in the least be duly categorized as politics. At the very best rather, such could aptly be depicted as sheer egocentricity, devoid of any reasonable or practical definition of politics. To a large extent therefore, it is time to correct this tragic notion of Chief Obasanjo’s apparent acts of treachery often mistaken for politics/politicking.
Without necessarily embarking on a long trip down memory lane, let us just take a cursory at some unpleasant areas between actions and inactions of this grey personality and the author of the book: This animal called man, with a view to understanding the relevance of the allegation that he engineered the current crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party. To begin with, perhaps only a handful of Nigerians would disagree that the real crisis, in contradistinction to the current recourse to smoke screen, raging in the Peoples Democratic Party owes its root to the dysfunctional internal democracy politics in the party that all began with President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration – especially in the wake of his second term presidential bid from 2003 – if the truth must be told. Incidentally, this ugly trend was later to culminate in double standard posturing and double-speak of all the people who aligned themselves with Obasanjo in their miscalculated partisan politicking at the time.
However, it is a naked fact that at the time the founding fathers of the People Democratic Party were putting up a consensus on the idea of rotational presidency among the six geo-political zones in the country, General Olusegun Obasanjo was still seething with smoldering anger over his incarceration by General Sani Abacha as a result of his indictment in what some people believe, rightly or wrongly, to be a phantom coup. Meanwhile, these courageous statesmen and patriots who resolutely put their lives on the line confronting General Sani Abacha with bare hands had demanded, inter alia, the restoration of democratic governance as well as the release of all political detainees languishing in various prison yards across the federation. And for those who may not know, this group of men who operated under the auspices of G34, led by Dr Alex Ekwueme (yes Chief Ekwueme, the one know), did of course make a case for the release of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
Interestingly, following his eventual freedom from General Sani Abacha’s dungeon, consequent upon the latter’s abrupt death, and the subsequent state pardon granted to Obasanjo by the new military regime of General Abdulsalam Abubakar, General Ibrahim Babangida maradonically sneaked in and hijacked the machinery of the Peoples Democratic Party from the founding fathers through the collaborative efforts of mostly retired Northern military officers and a good number of bloody civilian politicians (among whom were former members of the same G34) and, more importantly, with strong backing from Abdulsalam Abubakar-led junta. In fact, General Obasanjo – an ex-prisoner like the great Nelson Mandela – was thus installed as the democratically (s)elected President of Federal Republic of Nigeria.
But no sooner was his installation completed than he (President Obasanjo) announced to the consternation and/or chagrin of the likes of General Babangida that all those who in their various ways and capacities had contributed to his emergence as a “civilian” president would do well to consider their indispensable contributions, efforts and/or support as their own quota to the task of nation-building, rather than as an investment to subsequently recoup therefrom. Needless to say that this unforeseen pronouncement sent jitters across the minds of his seemingly helpless benefactors, who appeared to be apparently lacking in words. Though some of these benefactors who knew him well beyond the utterances of his mouth believed that the statement was not untypical, yet it goes to speak volumes about the idiosyncrasies of our subject.
Of course given the fact that he spent his first term presidency more in abroad than in Nigeria under the guise of scouting around the whole world for foreign investors that would come to invest in the country, President Obasanjo unwittingly traded his political clout and powers with his vice-president – Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. And being the de facto President while his boss was busy junketing around the world, Atiku thus acquired enormous powers and influence that were allegedly deployed later by him to compel his boss to go on his knees begging to be allowed to do his second term presidency, according to media reports.
Significantly, it was reportedly in the course of this drama and the resultant entreaties to Atiku in particular and other far-Northern leaders that the conspiracy to torpedo the original PDP understanding/agreement on zoning/rotational presidency was adopted. Not surprisingly, therefore, this viable political formula for national peace and stability was thus discarded and thrown into the dust bin of history, to the delight and advantage of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Whereas Alhaji Atiku Abubakar allegedly compromised this brainchild of the founding fathers of the Peoples Democratic Party at the altar of his inordinate ambition to take over from President Obasanjo upon the expiration of his second term presidency, some of his brothers and co-collaborators alike had swallowed Obasanjo’s bait in the belief that in no distant time their “birth right” to perpetually rule the country (either through the use of voters’ cards or via the barrel of gun) would be restored.
Meanwhile, for President Olusegun Obasanjo the next intended course of action would be an entirely different ball game, but it must be astutely managed and reserved to be played in due course. However, having understandably seen through the ploy, Dr Alex Ekwueme had to rise up once more to challenge Obasanjo in his second term presidential bid in order to make an enduring case for the jettisoned principle of zoning/ rotational presidency – for the last time perhaps. And duly satisfied that he had registered this fact of glaring breach of the PDP’s original agreement on zoning/rotational presidency by Obasanjo and his fellow agreement breakers, Chief Ekwueme gently retreated to watch events unfold in the polity.
But in an obvious attempt to further rubbish the idea of zoning and thus banish it from the minds of his co-collaborators who jointly torpedoed the original PDP‘s zoning/rotational presidency arrangement with him (but still nursed in their minds the thought of benefiting from the same arrangement at a later time), President Obasanjo desperately hankered for third term presidency but to no avail. Curiously, it was only in the face of this failure to realize his illegitimate ambition that it readily dawned on him (Obasanjo) that the presidency of the country needed to be ceded to the far North. Hence the subsequent manipulation of the electoral process in favor of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yaradua who candidly admitted afterwards that the process of his ascendancy was terribly marred by an unprecedented electoral fraud in the annals of history of Nigeria. Accordingly, he immediately caused action in motion for reforming the electoral system. Unfortunately, his terminal illness could no longer avail him the time to right the inherent wrongs in the system, and the man died.
Nevertheless, that his then vice-president, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who immediately took over from him did in fact succeed in bringing these reforms into fruition is no longer news. Also, that President Jonathan participated in the 2011 presidential election contest and clearly won is no longer news as well. However, what was news and will remain news is that President Olusegun Obasanjo not only supported Jonathan, though for some possibly selfish reasons, but also argued strongly against the wild impression of zoning of the presidency to the North as was created by some far Northern political leaders. In other words, Obasanjo reportedly denied having knowledge of the existence of any agreement he purportedly reached with anybody or group on the issue of power shift, to the great anger of his co-collaborators from the far North who apparently felt betrayed by the grandstanding of this supposedly statesman.
While dwelling on the seemingly political imbroglio that had arisen in the aftermath of the demise of President Umaru Musa Yaradua, Dr Alex Ekwueme had clarified and advised that: “the people who are adopting extreme position – who are saying that the North must have eight years, are not being entirely considerate of the situation because the eight years was regarded to be a two–term presidency of four years each. Clearly, there is no way we can now have late President Yaradua to have a second term. And those who are saying there was no agreement because the agreement was breached (by Obasanjo and his co-collaborators) are also not being realistic because this was an understanding. What all this boils down to is that the elders of the party who worked out this agreement in the first place must sit down and look at it again in the light of circumstances that have arisen” (see THE NATION Newspaper of August 8, 2010). But unfortunately, this was not done either before or after Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had won the 2011 presidential election.
Today the Peoples Democratic Party and the nation at large are once more engulfed in the same core-Northern agitation that “power must shift” to them, willy-nilly. And those refer to as members of the new PDP are reportedly insisting that Alhaji Bamanga Tukur-led Party Executives must go; that President Jonathan must stop the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from investigating the state accounts of those refer to as the seven aggrieved Governors; and, again, that President Jonathan must succumb to the commitment not to contest the 2015 presidential election. Really? As eccentric as these conditions are, methinks that someday this same group or another would spring up and besiege Mr. President with a novel demand on him to divorce his wife as a minimum condition to meet in order for its members to accept to be pacified and as such allow peace to reign in the party and the nation at large.
Though it is widely reported that President Olusegun Obasanjo is the godfather of those refer to as members of the new PDP owing to his alleged role in the emergence of this splinter group, yet nothing can be farther from the truth judging from the foregoing analysis of his past unpredictable actions and inactions towards issues of zoning/or rotational presidency in PDP. In any case, borrowing the words of Dr Alex Ekwueme, let it be known that “it is going to be unconscionable to tell an incumbent President… not to contest an election which he’s constitutionally qualified to contest – especially given the fact that his zone had never held power”.
Onyiorah Chiduluemije Paschal, a Journalist, Writes from Abuja, via [email protected]