What Manner Of Elder Statesman
“I am no more a politician but a statesman, both internally and externally.”
THESE were the words of the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who ruled the country for eight years on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He had earlier been military Head of State between 1976 and 1979.
To formally quit the party, he had ordered and supervised the tearing up of his PDP membership card in the presence of his ward members, to spite the party and of course, president Goodluck Jonathan on the mooted step to expel him from the party for anti-party activities. He had also declared that by the party’s behaviour it was bent on destroying Nigeria. But he soon forgot the behaviour of the party under him for which the revered Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka had described the party as “a nest of killers” following myriad of mysterious political killings which could not be unravelled.
I have decided to do this piece not in sympathy with President Jonathan or because I am a member of PDP. I am not a PDP member. This piece is borne out of sheer concern about the attitude of the former president who claims to be an elder statesman. It pricks my mind that he is anything but a statesman. When you juxtapose the bitter attitude of the former president with that of former leaders in the advanced world and even some in Africa, it becomes axiomatic that he is not anywhere near a statesman. He is only a statesman by virtue of his destiny to supervise the Nigerian nation, first as an opportunistic military Head of State and then later as a democratic president for two terms. He even sought to get the then National Assembly give him a third term.
In the United States, is it possible to find George Bush (the father) and George Bush (the son), Jimmy Carter (Obasanjo’s friend), Bill Clinton, to mention a few come out brazenly to disparage a sitting American president on account of certain perceived follies in office. Not even in very serious international ideological and diplomatic gaffes. Not even under President Barrack Obama, whose foreign policy seems to be weak, especially in the face of Russian intransigence in Ukraine.
Here in Africa, Nelson Mandela did not breathe down on Thabo Mbeki throughout his tenure. In Ghana, Jerry Rawlings and John Kuffour have carried themselves with dignity. In Nigeria, the behaviours of former leaders, Yakubu Gowon, Shehu Shagari, Ibrahim Babangida, Alex Ekwueme, have been so dignified and impressive. You will not have them come to the public to cast aspersions on a sitting president, no matter how aggrieved they are. Nor write open letters and leak them to the press against the person of a sitting president. Even the behaviour of Kofi Anan of Ghana, a former UN Secretary General and that of Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a former Commonwealth Secretary General have been so impressive as they have not used their international connections to discredit the presidents of their countries. We must bear in mind in this connection, Obasanjo’s attempt some years back to be the Secretary General of the United Nations. If he had been successful, perhaps today, he would be accusing Jonathan of crimes against humanity (which Obasanjo himself committed in Odi and Zango-Kattaf).
Now, what manner of statesman is Obasanjo? He is the only statesman that would write a voluminous and disparaging letter to a sitting president. He is the only statesman that would write a voluminous book and dedicate a significant portion to disparage a sitting president. He is the only former president who will open his mouth unguardedly against a sitting president who is a member of a party he led for many years. He is the only statesman who will interpret a sitting president’s policies as economic and political sabotage to the nation. The efforts of the president to deal with security and economic issues mean destruction of the unity of the country to this statesman. The shift in election dates for some reasons by the government means the president wants to remain in power forever. How soon he had forgotten the bid by his government to perpetuate itself in power through the National Assembly, apparently for a third term.
He is the only statesman that observes a sitting president encouraging corruption in the country. He has written a voluminous book in which portions are targeted at this regime on account of his relationship with his perceived enemy in Ogun State, Kashamu, who is a chieftain of their party, PDP. He has been having a running legal and media battle with Kashamu. He even went abroad to launch the book, a deliberate effort to discredit the sitting government.
But one would like to note that all regimes in the world both in developed and developing countries have their cronies. Yes, the Obasanjo eight years in power also had several cronies. If a Kashamu for any personal reasons is a Jonathan crony, it is not enough reason for a man that claims to be an elder statesman to be lampooning the president every day. There is nothing he does that seems right before the former president. He should allow history to judge Jonathan like it is already judging him.
Is this to say that Obasanjo loves Nigeria more than the other statesmen? Or is it a paranoid and pathological hatred and disrespect for somebody whom he doesn’t want to be in the same history page in the club of former presidents of Nigeria? Or is it possible that there are certain things the Jonathan government has not been able to defer to him as a powerful person?
The action he has so far displayed as a statesman is rather gangster like. What I will call gangster statesmanship. Or how do you explain it when his utterances and behaviour betray a yawning lack of equanimity and grandeur that should hallmark the character of a statesman, like what you find in Gowon, Shagari, Babangida, Ekwueme, Anyaoku, etc; very robust and accommodating to all opinions and persons. Of course, he cannot be said to be more patriotic and nationalistic than these great men. An elder should talk, but not the way Obasanjo does. An elder that talks at the smallest prodding in circumstance becomes a cankerworm and mischief-maker. There is no other way to describe him now than as a cankerworm and mischief-maker in the present circumstance. How can a man who declared during his regime that his advisers should not think that he was bound by their advice, now turn around to expect another to be bound by his. And for the reason that his advice is not accepted by the sitting government, such a government would not have peace. He calls the government by all manner of names. It’s unfair.
Why would he order and supervise his ward chairman to tear up his membership card? Can you find this behaviour anywhere in the world by a former president? What an example? Very soon now, you begin to see people tear their party membership cards to spite the system. In my opinion, the ward chairman should be suspended from the party for tearing the card on Obasanjo’s orders. He is not worthy to be a chairman, as he should have known that that singular act was sacrilegious to the essence of his party. And this is a ward where the former president could not win election for his party even as an incumbent.
It is instructive that Obasanjo’s children have also come out openly to tell him off on account of his penchant for gangster statesmanship. The daughter, who was a senator under his tenure has told Nigerians how much of a pathological power monger and mischief-maker he is. Every Nigerian knows him for his mischievous attitude. There is nothing wrong with being a nationalist and patriot. But the manner it is exercised is the issue. Nobody should play God with national issues. Every regime has its God-given date. When it comes it must leave the stage. He had spent his own time, not even more gloriously than this regime. We should have statesmen that work for peace and not to destroy what they have built because of one person who is not liked.
And as a purported custodian of wisdom in all the Nigerian land or among all the presidents that have come our way, the former president does not seem to act as such. And this contradicts a wise Yoruba saying that, “when the eyes see, the mouth remains quiet.” This does not by any stretch of the imagination suggest quiescence of “connivance”, or “watching the house go up in flames” or “a goat giving birth in tether.” But quiescence that reflects tactic and strategy and profound understanding of the complexities of running a country. Indeed, quiescence of empathy for the president in the onerous task of nation building. Also one that would show how much care and concern the former president genuinely has for the survival of the country. Wisdom means that there are several ways his emotions and frustrations with the sitting government should be communicated to the president.
Not in the manner in which he pursues his convictions as though without him Nigeria would cease to exist. When you exhibit such wisdom it becomes grandstanding, flamboyance and aggrandisement. We should remind him of the Libyan elders’ saying that “the camel does not see the bend in its neck.” It means that it is so easy for the former president to see the shortcomings of the Jonathan government than the way he saw his own shortcomings while in office. The third term machinations, which he never discouraged were even more destabilizing than the shift in election dates for certain things to be in place.
Ifeanyi, a political scientist lives in Lagos.