Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has, for some time now, assumed the conscience of the nation. Brought out of prison in 1998 and assumed the seat of the Presidency on May 29, 1999, Obasanjo has not looked back since then in assuming the role some of his admirers credit to him as the father of modern Nigeria.
Rightly or wrongly, that appellation has stuck to Obasanjo since he burst on the scene for the second time in 1999 as president. Whether it is in making of the president of the country or marring them, Obasanjo has been a regular fixture. As the 2019 elections approach,
Obasanjo has again been thrown into the fray with his letter to President Muhammadu Buhari last week, which warned the president not to seek re-election in 2019. “I only appeal to brother Buhari to consider a deserved rest at this point in time and at this age. I continue to wish him robust health to enjoy his retirement from active public service.
President Buhari does not necessarily need to heed my advice. But whether or not he heeds it, Nigeria needs to move on and move forward,” part of his letter to Buhari last week read. Much as we do not contest Obasanjo’s position that Nigeria must move forward, we are constrained to ask: Move forward in which direction?
We are also constrained to ask: In whose terms? For since he finished his tenure in 2007, Nigeria has only moved forward at Obasanjo’s terms. We recall that in the run-up to the 2007 presidential election, many candidates had shown very clear intentions to succeed Obasanjo.
Such names included the likes of his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, Peter Odili, Jerry Gana, Rochas Okorocha (now Governor of Imo State), Gen. Aliyu Gusau, Ebitu Ukiwe, the late Mike Akhigbe and Buba Marwa, among others. There were also some former governors who indicated interest in the race.
But Obasanjo, through the machinations of some of his aides, settled for an unusual character, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, as his choice for the office. Save for his eight-year tenure as the governor of Katsina State, Yar’Adua was not known to Nigerians as a man who can rule the country.
Obasanjo’s reason then was based more on the austere or Spartan lifestyle of the late president, even though there were signs that he was not in the best of health. Obasanjo did not stop there as he also picked Goodluck Jonathan, who was serving out his tenure as the replacement Governor of Bayelsa State, after Diprieye Alamieyeseigha’s episode as the running mate of Yar’Adua. Before his choice, Jonathan was preparing to recontest the governorship of the state.
Thus, Obasanjo bequeathed Nigeria’s presidency to two people who did not prepare for the seat.
Obasanjo was to fall out with Yar’Adua, who was reluctant to continue with some of his (Obasanjo) programmes and policies. Incidentally, Yar’Adua died in office and Jonathan took over. Sadly, we recall that in 2011, against the protestations of the North, Obasanjo jettisoned the zoning principle, a gentleman’s agreement within PDP, when he insisted that Jonathan must run.
That angered the North who felt short-changed, but allowed Jonathan to run. He won. There is no doubt that that move was the foundation of the defeat of PDP in 2015. We say so because much as it was desirable to have somebody from the minorities emerge as president as Jonathan did, his insistence on running for another term, after a six-year stint, led to the chaos that threw up Buhari in 2015.
At that time too, Jonathan had fallen out of favour with Obasanjo, resulting in a lengthy epistle of failure from the former president. We also recall that in the bid to oust Jonathan, Obasanjo formed alliances with strange political bedfellows that formed the crux of the All Progressives Congress (APC) led by Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. That coalition eventually saw to the death of PDP and end of the Jonathan era.
Now, Buhari and Obasanjo have fallen out. Hence, the lengthy press statement Obasanjo released last week. We acknowledge that Obasanjo has admitted that he is no longer in partisan politics.
At least, it was a public show that his PDP card was torn. We also acknowledge that like Obasanjo, most Nigerians would want to see Nigeria move forward. But we are of the view that after nearly 20 years of democracy, 2019 should be the year Nigerians should have their own president, devoid of the Obasanjo’s fingers in whatever guise, especially the proposed coalition.
Much as we note that Nigeria needs a fatherly figure of his type, we believe that it would be better for Nigeria to move forward in the proper sense that is not tele-guided, influenced or regimented towards producing a particular result. Nigeria surely deserves to move forward, but we submit that it must be at Nigerians’ terms, not at the terms of Obasanjo and his fellow retired Generals. We must use the 2019 election for what we are practicing – democracy.
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