Former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s stocks fall to an all-time low
Even in spite of his malicious politics and less than sparkling performance in office, former president Olusegun Obasanjo remains a magnet to politicians. His Abeokuta home has retained its status as one of the country’s most important political addresses. On 31 December, it briefly hosted President Goodluck Jonathan, whom Obasanjo had savaged in a letter that was leaked to the media and published on 2 December 2013.
By the time Jonathan paid his unscheduled visit to the architect of his presidency, he had responded to Obasanjo’s numerous allegations via an open letter.
Nine days before the visit, Obasanjo’s guests were heavyweights of the newly registered All Progressives Congress, APC, most whom previously considered the former president a deadly virus. But times have changed. The pariah of yore is now viewed by the APC as a marquee name. Keen to mine Obasanjo’s disenchantment with Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu invited their host to be the “navigator” of the new party. The invitation, even the decision to associate with a man previously viewed as having a mouldy reputation, attracted widespread criticism.
Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, described APC’s dalliance with Obasanjo as an invitation to disaster. “If General Sani Abacha were alive today, would he also have been on the ship’s complement? As captain, perhaps?” Soyinka asked.
At the meeting with Obasanjo, Chief Bisi Akande, APC’s interim National Chairman, praised the former president for his fulminating 18-page letter to Jonathan. In the letter, Obasanjo raised concerns about the state of the economy, especially the mismanagement of the oil and gas sector, corruption, security and the President’s yet-to-be-declared second term bid.
Playing the statesman, Obasanjo advised his guests to ensure that their politics is devoid of bitterness. However, he declined their invitation to join their party, saying he still belongs in the PDP, and was keen to sell himself to his guests as a lover of democracy. “I am a democrat and one of the essential ingredients of democracy is opposition. A democracy that has no opposition built into it is not democracy,” he said.
How much of his claim his guests found believable was not immediately clear. But what is not in doubt is that the dominant bloc in Obasanjo’s party is convinced that the former president’s democratic–and moral–credentials are, at best, dodgy.
The most recent expression of this sentiment came via Chief Edwin Clark, a major supporter of President Jonathan, whose 10-page letter to Obasanjo was published in the media last Monday. Though eight pages shorter than Obasanjo’s letter to Jonathan, Clark’s missive contained a similar amount of toxin. To Clark, Obasanjo has enough moral baggage to fill an aircraft hangar, something that makes him ineligible to criticise Jonathan. “How dare you point accusing fingers at others when you have a cupboard filled with skeletons?
“Most of the various issues you raised in your letter are mere re-visitation of the many things you did and failed to do in your eight years of misgovernance,” the letter read in part.
Clark went on to describe Obasanjo’s letter as “contemptuous, treasonable and generating negative national discourse”. He also drew attention to his previous open letters to Obasanjo in which he warned him against his mismanagement of the country and his interference with the government of the late president Umaru Yar’Adua.
The former minister attributed Obasanjo’s criticism of Jonathan to the President’s refusal to take instructions from him. Clark also defended Jonathan against the charge that the President has become “possessed” by his Ijaw ethnic group. “Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has never for once acted nor behaved as an Ijaw man since he took office as President, and we hold no grudge against him for that…Unlike you, Obasanjo, who is a Yoruba man first before being a Nigerian, I, Chief E.K. Clark, am the accepted leader of the Ijaws, while unfortunately you, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, are not accepted as leader of the Yorubas despite being Head of State twice, because you lack the virtues and honour deserving of a Yoruba leader.”
On Obasanjo’s charge of maladministration, corruption and incompetence against Jonathan, Clark responded: “When corruption is mentioned, informed Nigerians know those that foisted the malady on our nation. The Halliburton bribe scandal and the Siemens case were lightly touched by President Jonathan in his open reply to you. These two high profile corruption cases happened during your tenure as President.”
Prior to Clark’s attack on the former president, Senator Ameh Ebute, a former Senate President, had launched a similarly vicious attack on Obasanjo. Ebute, like Clark, re-invited public attention to Obasanjo’s conduct in office. In a letter dated 18 December 2013, the former Senate President slated Obasanjo over his letter to Jonathan and accused him of inflicting a variety of ills on the PDP. Ebute accused Obasanjo of frequent chopping and changing of national chairmen of the party and the leadership of the Senate as well as masterminding, unconstitutionally, the impeachment of many governors.
“As Chief Obasanjo bestrode the PDP like an intimidating colossus, electoral decency was jettisoned, internal democracy trampled upon and good conscience buried as he dealt ruthlessly with all perceived enemies regardless of democratic culture and ethos. The following casualties of his high-handed leadership are dead and living testimonies: the late Senator Chuba Okadigbo, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, Governor Peter Odili, whom he used, milked and dumped; Governor Joshua Dariye; Governor Orji Uzor Kalu; Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi; Governor Gbenga Daniel; Deputy Governor Mukhtar Shagari; Governor Attahiru Bafarawa; Governor D. S. P. Alamieyeseigha; etc,” Ebute wrote.
The former Senate President also drew attention to Obasanjo’s sly attempt at tenure elongation through the National Political Reform Conference of 2005 as well as the prevalence of corruption under his watch. “He presided over the proceeds of Nigeria’s oil and gas for six years, without transparent accounting as the de facto Minister of Petroleum Resources. To perfect his plan, he appointed his kinsman and protégé to serve as the Group Managing Director of NNPC. Nigeria’s oil and gas revenue was helplessly at the discretion of the duo. Where was accountability and transparency?” asked Ebute.
He added that Obasanjo lacks the moral qualification to accuse another government of corruption when, as president, he nudged those who did business with his government into raising money for his library complex in Abeokuta and also became a shareholder in Transnational Corporation of Nigeria plc. Similarly, he blamed the various problems his successors have had to deal with on Obasanjo’s wretched performance as president. “The myriad of problems and challenges bequeathed by the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo have made the work of nation building inexorably difficult for his successors,” he added, before calling for the former president’s expulsion from the PDP for anti-party activities.
Jonathan’s response to Obasanjo’s letter, though firm, contained fewer firecrackers. The President described Obasanjo’s letter as a threat to national security. He explained that he had no option than respond because Obasanjo requested a reply. He denied Obasanjo’s allegations that he had placed about 1,000 people on a political watch list and that he was training snipers that would be deployed to kill political enemies.
“Baba, I don’t know where you got that from, but you do me grave injustice in not only lending credence to such baseless rumours, but also publicising it. You mentioned God 17 times in your letter. Can you as a Christian hold the Bible and say that you truly believe this allegation?” Jonathan asked. The President also refuted Obasanjo’s claim that corruption has been thriving under his watch. He expressed surprise that Obasanjo could believe the allegation in a letter by Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, that $49.8 billion of oil money was missing.
“Since, as president, you also served for many years as Minister of Petroleum Resources, you very well know the workings of the corporation (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation). It is, therefore, intriguing that you have made such an assertion.
“You made a lot of insinuations about oil theft, shady dealings at the NNPC and NNPC not remitting the full proceeds of oil sales to the of CBN. Now that the main source of the allegations, which you rehashed, has publicly stated that he was ‘misconstrued’, perhaps you will find it in your heart to apologise for misleading unwary Nigerians and impugning the integrity of my administration on that score,” he said.
Jonathan, who attributed opposition to his administration to the jockeying for the 2015 elections, wrote: “At the heart of all the current troubles in our party and the larger polity is the unbridled jostling and positioning for personal or group advantage ahead of the 2015 general election. The ‘bitterness, anger, mistrust, fear and deep suspicion’ you wrote about all flow from this singular factor.”
Jonathan accused Obasanjo and his allies within the party of attempting to scare him “out of an undeclared candidature for the 2015 presidential election” to enable the former president anoint a successor. Jonathan’s letter, though widely anticipated, failed to buy him wholesale sympathy because of the perception that Obasanjo, a disaster as president, was correct in his unflattering assessment of the Jonathan administration as incompetent, corrupt and the President clannish and dishonourable.
Obasanjo, who had been seething at his grossly diminished influence within the PDP and on the President, stung Jonathan with a variety of allegations, including the claim that Jonathan promised to serve only one term in office. His letter was well received by many who are worried by the grim conditions in the country. Obasanjo’s letter was viewed as a familiar critique of governance under Jonathan, if perhaps more bluntly stated than usual. Though ostensibly private, its appearance in the media was thought to have been Obasanjo’s handiwork.
But the applause the letter attracted was suddenly muted by a most intemperate letter from, of all people, his daughter, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo. Published on 18 December by Vanguard, the letter brimmed with poison. She described her father as a hypocrite, manipulator, wife beater and a power-hungry man. Iyabo, who is currently based in the US, also told her father he should stop acting as though he owned the country.
The scalding tone of the letter, especially coming at a time the former president was facing assault from other quarters, initially provoked doubts that the senator wrote it. Those doubts were happily seized upon by Obasanjo’s supporters, who immediately started working to present the letter as a fabrication.
The first attempt was posted online a few hours after the letter went viral. A transcript of Iyabo’s denial, allegedly obtained from a Lagos-based radio station, added to the confusion. However, the grim grammar in which the purported denial was rendered suggested to discerning observers that it was fake. Then came responses from a variety of third parties, who claimed Iyabo had told them that she did not write the letter, with a particular one claiming Iyabo said she loves her father and would never write such a letter. When Vanguard contacted Obasanjo the day after it published the letter, the former president told his callers that they were idiots and warned them to expect a letter from Iyabo’s lawyers. That is yet to happen. So is the direct denial by Iyabo, who was said by Chief Olusegun Osoba, former governor of Ogun State, to have complained bitterly about her father when they met in the U.S.
When the third-party denials did not work, Obasanjo’s supporters went online to start blaming the Presidency for instigating the senator to write the letter, a charged the Presidency dismissed.
Though the letter did not win Iyabo universal applause, it succeeded in showing how low Obasanjo’s stocks have fallen. And despite being openly courted by the opposition, what he currently gets in the PDP is faux respect.
Before now, Obasanjo won plaudits for his criticism of the country’s leaders. He debuted with the administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, to whom he handed over as a military head of state. Obasanjo frequently criticised the Shagari government’s handling of the economy–to the delight of the general public, which was justifiably disenchanted and viewed him as a voice of reason. Years later, Shagari revealed in his autobiography, Beckoned To Serve, that Obasanjo’s criticism of his administration was on account of his refusal to take instructions from Obasanjo.
When the Shagari regime was overthrown by the Muhammadu Buhari junta in 1983, Obasanjo was quoted as saying he was not surprised. The Ibrahim Babangida regime, which replaced that of Buhari in 1985, was famously slated by Obasanjo for its adoption of the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, in 1986. With SAP out of tune with public mood, Obasanjo publicly demanded that the programme be given “a human face”. The Babangida regime responded through the late Mike Akhigbe, then a navy captain and military governor of Lagos State, who described Obasanjo as a “frustrated chicken farmer”. Akhigbe’s response was met with voluble public dissent.
Obasanjo also won many hearts when, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, he accused General Sani Abacha’s regime of spending like a drunken sailor. Abacha, who was notoriously thin-skinned, eventually moved against Obasanjo. The former president was jailed on trumped-up charges of coup plotting. His plight provoked massive public sympathy, a tiny fraction of which he appears to enjoy with his criticism of Jonathan.