Former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s 18-page stinker caps what has been a rotten week for President Jonathan
Eminently forgettable. That, most probably, is how President Goodluck Jonathan would view the week gone by. Early last Wednesday, social media platforms and online chat forums erupted with discussions on an 18-page letter written to the President by the architect of his office, former president Olusegun Obasanjo. The letter contained no sweet nothings. Its excerpts, first published by online medium, Premium Times, were unmistakably Obasanjo: searing and sanctimonious.
Even then, only dyed-in-the-wool supporters of the President could argue that the former president’s allegations are entirely without basis. The country under Jonathan’s watch, wrote Obasanjo, “is bleeding” on account of the President’s failure to make good his electoral promises, arrest corruption, promote unity and reinforce national security. Obasanjo accused the President of being committed to personal and political interests, dividing the country along regional and religious lines as well as causing a crack in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. More woundingly, Obasanjo accused Jonathan of being dishonourable. According to him, Jonathan promised in 2011 to spend only one term in office, a promise the President’s body language is showing he is unwilling to honour. “Up till two months ago, Mr. President, you told me that you have not told anybody that you would contest in 2015. I quickly pointed out to you that the signs and the measures on the ground do not tally with your statement. You said the same to one other person, who shared his observation with me. And only a fool would believe that statement you made to me, judging by what is going on. I must say it is not ingenious. You may wish to pursue a more credible and more honourable path,” wrote the former president.
This promise, which Obasanjo alleged was made to governors, party stakeholders and Nigerians, has often been presented by Northern politicians agitating for the return of power to the region. As yet, no cast-iron evidence that the promise was made has been provided. The former president also accused Jonathan of working against PDP governorship candidates during gubernatorial elections in Lagos, Ondo, Edo and Anambra states as well as failing to address the underlying causes of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Another scorching item in the letter referred to the widespread belief that Jonathan has reduced himself to a president for the Ijaw ethnic nationality. “For you to allow yourself to be ‘possessed’, so to say, to the exclusion of most of the rest of Nigerians as an ‘Ijaw man’ is a mistake that should never have been allowed to happen. Yes, you have to be born in one part of Nigeria to be Nigerian if not naturalised, but the Nigerian President must be above ethnic factionalism. And those who prop you up as of, and for ‘Ijaw nation’ are not your friends genuinely, not friends of Nigeria nor friends of ‘Ijaw nation’ they tout about,” he wrote.
Similarly damaging is an allegation that Jonathan has put over 1,000 Nigerians on a watch list and has set up a squad of killers, which is being trained where the late General Sani Abacha trained those who worked for his despotic regime. Obasanjo also accused the President of providing cover for an unnamed murderer to evade justice. This is thought to be an allusion to Major Hamza al-Mustapha, Chief Security Officer to the late General Sani Abacha, who was controversially cleared of involvement in the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, wife of the late Chief MKO Abiola, a man whose contributions to the return of democracy Obasanjo never recognised.
“Presidential assistance for a murderer to evade justice and presidential delegation to welcome him home can only be in bad taste generally, but particularly to the family of his victim,” Obasanjo said, before urging the National Assembly to decisively act on the recent allegation that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation failed to remit billions of dollars in proceeds of crude oil sales to the federation account.
The former president said he wrote the letter in national interest, a claim that must have drawn sneers from those familiar with the diminution of his status in the PDP, his penchant for hitting leaders when their reputations are at their weakest and are likely to view the letter as one by a jilted lover still sore at being dumped. Obasanjo had been sniping at Jonathan for some time and has just come out for a full-fledged combat. At the Jigawa State Economic Summit last May, Obasanjo said: “You know you can help somebody to get a job but you cannot help him to do it. If somebody cannot do the job, we have Sule Lamido who is competent to do the job.” There were no prizes for guessing the object of his attack. At the same event, the former president sneered at the figures of economic growth usually trotted by the Federal Government, saying they do not truly reflect the people’s conditions.
Obasanjo famously assailed General Ibrahim Babangida’s unpopular Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, and was widely applauded for it. During the Second Republic, he made a habit of slating the Shehu Shagari administration at a time it had suffered a huge credibility crisis. In Beckoned To Serve, Shagari’s autobiography, the Second Republic President wrote that Obasanjo’s criticism of his administration was because he did not allow him to run the show.
Many observers accused Obasanjo of hypocrisy, especially given his allegation that Jonathan is dishonourable. Obasanjo, an observer recalled last week, worked assiduously to have a third term and got many governors to commit resources into the failed bid. Saminu Turaki, then governor of Jigawa State, admitted putting N10 billion of public money into the tenure elongation plot.
Obasanjo’s criticism of Jonathan’s handling of the economy also invited rejoinders from observers, who accuse him of frittering billions of dollars of oil revenues the country earned under his watch. The quality of roads, water supply, education, electricity supply, healthcare and other aspects of national infrastructure, an analyst said, dipped alarmingly under Obasanjo. The sum of N350 billion, which his government claimed to have expended in improving federal roads, yielded measly returns.
Corruption, which Obasanjo also accused Jonathan of promoting, many observers reckon, did not abate during his presidency. The Halliburton scandal as well as the bingeing on the resources of the Petroleum Trust Development Fund are held up as examples of the former president’s lack of chastity.
Yinka Odumakin, National Publicity Secretary, Afenifere, described Obasanjo’s letter as an attempt to settle scores.
Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, described the former president and his godson as peas from the same pod. “It is unfortunate that it is now that Obasanjo sees the fight against corruption as waning. In his days, he frustrated the fight against corruption. The ICPC under Obasanjo was underfunded. The EFCC under him was used to suppress the voice of political enemies. Obasanjo came to power with less than N20,000 and left power as a multi-billionaire,” he said.
To Lakin Akintola of the Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, the letter came a little late. Akintola, who described Jonathan as having a “contradictory character”, is convinced that the President promised to serve only one term.
Obasanjo was aware that his letter would attract a fusillade added that he was ready for such “hired and unhired attackers”.
Late on Wednesday night, Reuben Abati, Special Adviser to Jonathan on Media and Publicity, delivered a not exactly tame riposte. “The Presidency acknowledges that it has, indeed, received the said letter from Chief Obasanjo. We, however, find it highly unbecoming, mischievous and provocative that a letter written by a former head of state and respected elder statesman to President Jonathan has been deliberately leaked to the mass media in a deplorable effort to impugn the integrity of the President and denigrate his commitment to giving Nigeria the best possible leadership,” said Abati in a statement.
The presidential spokesman claimed that many view the letter as “self-serving, hypocritical, malicious, indecent, and very disrespectful” and added that the President has instructed his aides and government officials not to take on Obasanjo.
The President, Abati concluded, will personally respond to the charges brought against him.
Two days before Obasanjo’s explosive letter, Aminu Tambuwal, Speaker of the House of Representatives, had poured scorn of the President’s claim that his government is succeeding in its fight against corruption. Responding to questions at a conference organised by the Nigerian Bar Association in Abuja last Monday, Tambuwal said Jonathan is encouraging corruption by his handling of corruption cases: “The President’s body language seems to be encouraging corrupt practices in the country.”
To instantiate his claim, Tambuwal listed the oil subsidy and Securities and Exchange Commission scandals, the pension scam and the N255 million car purchase scandal involving Ms. Stella Oduah, Minister of Aviation.
“Take the subsidy probe, the pension, the SEC probe and recently the bullet-proof car cases. After the House of Representatives did a diligent job by probing and exposing the cases, you now see something else when it comes to prosecution.
“In some cases, you have the government setting up new committees to duplicate the job already done by the parliament. Take the bullet-proof cars case, the NSA, with all the security challenges confronting the country, should not be burdened with a job that can best be handled by the anti-corruption agencies,” the Speaker explained.
Tambuwal also offered an explanation of his criticism of the President’s practice of using as a clearing house for the award of contracts, saying the President should set up a council for the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, as prescribed by the law.
“When I raised in my budget speech and advised Mr. President to stop using the Executive Council as a clearing house for the award of contracts, so many people attacked my person, saying that I was disrespectful to the office of the President. The fact of the matter is that the position of the law, that is the BPP Act, is that there should be a council to be established by the President. That position of the law is not being respected,” added Tambuwal.
The Presidency responded with predictable irritation. “Is he (Tambuwal) now a sorcerer that he now goes about reading people’s body language? He should make efforts to focus more on the efforts of the administration in fighting corruption and comment on what he knows,” a newspaper quoted Abati as saying.
The same day the Speaker dropped his bomb, a letter written to the President by Dr. Lamido Sanusi Lamido, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, appeared on online medium, Saharareporters. Dated 25 September, Sanusi’s letter accused the NNPC of failing to repatriate $49.8 billion of proceeds of crude oil shipments it made between January 2012 and July 2013.
He detailed how 594,024,107 barrels of crude valued at $65,332,350,514.57 lifted between January 2012 and July 2014 but only $15,528,410,098.77 (representing 24 per cent of the value) was remitted to the Federation Account by the NNPC.
“This means the NNPC is yet to account for, and repatriate to the Federation Account, an amount in excess of $49.804 billion or 76 per cent of the value of oil lifted in the same period,” the letter read.
The implication of this, noted Sanusi, is a breach of constitutional provisions as well as the country’s foreign exchange and pre-shipment inspection of export laws.
Sanusi also invited the President’s attention to previous occasions, when he had complained about seeming shortfalls in remittances to the Federation Account despite the strong recovery in oil price.
The fact that Sanusi’s letter did not provoke urgent action from the President was viewed in some quarters as an indication that Jonathan, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, Minister of Petroleum; and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance, had attempted to cover up fraud and was seized on by critics to put pressure on the government. Lai Mohammed, National Publicity Secretary of the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, called on the President to speak out if he does not want to be seen as culpable. He described the alleged non-remittance to the Federation Account as a hint that the ruling PDP is stockpiling cash for next year’s general elections.
“It is a deliberate scheme by the government and it is one the plans aimed at 2015. It is a war chest and if it is not, the President must speak up if the government is not culpable. Never in the history of the country has the level of corruption been so high,” he said. Lawyer and social critic, Bamidele Aturu, commended Sanusi for raising an alarm, called for an end to the opaqueness that has dogged the country’s oil and gas industry, and asked the President to act.
But NNPC spokesman, Dr. Omar Farouk Ibrahim, charged that Sanusi’s allegation was a product of flimsy knowledge of the workings of the oil and gas industry and the modality for remitting crude oil sales revenue into the Federation Account.
According to Ibrahim, 618.55m barrels, not the 594.024 million barrels of crude oil given by the CBN, was the total crude oil lifting for the period of January 2012 to July 2013.
He explained that revenue from crude oil liftings are in various categories: Equity Crude, Petroleum Profit Tax, Royalty, Third Party Financing and the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NPDC. Ibrahim added that revenues from each of these categories are statutorily collected by different agencies of the government, with the NNPC collecting only Equity Crude. “Petroleum Profit Tax is collected by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS; Royalty goes to the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR; Third Party financing goes for Research, Development, Programme and Satellite Fields Development, while NPDC goes to NPDC for upstream development,” he explained.
He said the 24 per cent of total crude oil revenue receipts, which the CBN Governor acknowledged that NNPC remitted, represents the proceeds from equity lifting.
Even away from home, the President got no respite. In Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was one of the 90 world leaders in attendance at the memorial service for the country’s former president, Nelson Mandela, Jonathan was assigned a bit-part role.
The President’s name was missing from the list of leaders billed to give tributes. Those who gave tributes included US President, Barack Obama; President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil; Vice-President Li Yuanchao of China; President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia; President Pranab Mukherjee of India; and President Raúl Castro Ruz of Cuba.
While Jonathan was not the only leader not given the task, the President, on account of the presumed snub, was an objective of fun on social media platforms, where many argued that Nigeria’s influence in sub-Saharan Africa and its role in the liberation of South Africa should have entitled its President to some recognition. That he was not offered the chance to speak at the event was taken by critics to mean that his influence or that of the country has diminished. Of the presumed snub, Lagos-based lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, said Nigerian politicians are to be blamed for country’s poor profile on the international community.
According to him, the decades of poor governance and corruption by the country’s politicians have led to an erosion of the country’s profile. “Nigeria has lost its social, political and economic glory domestically and that glory that is lost cannot be recovered at Mandela’s funeral. While Nigeria officialdom maybe in a state of discomfiture by the non-recognition of Nigeria in the protocol of the funeral, the point is that it is not what Nigeria did for South Africa or for Angola or for any of the frontline states like Namibia that Nigeria will be remembered,” he said.
The Presidency’s reaction to Jonathan’s non-selection for a tribute was to describe it a “complete non-issue.”
Abati blamed the drama created out of the development as “a further indication of a rising minority tendency to read the negative into every official item”.
“It was made clear at the occasion that the Chairman of the AU Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, will speak on behalf of African leaders. And she did. I do not agree that Nigeria was insulted in any way…There were many other leaders at the event, whose countries have strong historical and political ties with South Africa, but who did not speak. I have not heard their compatriots crying like babies,” the presidential spokesman added.
Abati may have disagreed that Nigeria was insulted at the event, but his claim that Dr. Zuma was the one chosen to speak for African leaders turned out to be incorrect because Namibia’s President Pohamba was also selected to speak.