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Obasanjo on Buhari: Matters arising

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President Muhammadu Buhari PHOTO: BAYO OMOBORIOWO

It is getting rough for President Muhammadu Buhari. His super highway to 2019 is being increasingly reduced to a footpath overcast with low clouds.

Three weeks or so ago, Rev Father Mbaka, the Catholic priest who threw his prophetic weight behind Buhari in 2015, gave the president God’s message to the effect that he should bury his ambition for 2019. Seven APC governors, anxious to sweeten that sour taste, promptly went Abuja to ask the president to contest for a second term. After all, elections are not won by prophecies.

Last week all the APC governors formally endorsed Buhari for 2019. They have thus fenced out anyone else in the party who may nurse the satanic ambition to offer himself as a credible alternative to him. Their endorsement was also intended to frighten away ambitious men in the other political parties because, the president, armed with the power of incumbency, is not dislodgeable.

Still, things are going down hill for the president. The murderous activities of the Fulani herdsmen, particularly in the Middle-Belt zone of the country, threaten to define Buhari’s presidency.

Rightly or wrongly, Buhari’s apparent inaction or poor and late response to this messy security challenge is seen as his tacit encouragement of the men who kill without rhyme or reason. It is unfair but when the people are frustrated with their leader, conspiracy theories stay permanently on the front burner.

Even the president’s proposed solution, the setting up of cattle colonies in the states, has been so far received with a vigorous shaking of the head. That, certainly, leaves the president in a quandary while his critics pile it on.

On January 23, former President Olusegun Obasanjo released what the press calls a bombshell. In a nine-page open letter to the president, Obasanjo spoke what many have been saying in the media, in watering holes, market places or in whispers. Not many people outside the immediate circle of the president’s aides and friends would disagree with most of what the former president said. Obasanjo is known for his bluntness. And bluntly he has told the president his mind.

It would not be surprising to see that those responding to him, including the presidency, would dwell on Obasanjo’s alleged ill-motive. Sure, motive is an important factor that cannot be discounted; but whether his motive is pure, honest and patriotic or impure, dark and self-serving, his detailed critique of Buhari and his administration says more for his desire for change than his alleged ill-motive to bring down the government.

Obasanjo had a hand in bringing the Buhari government into office; as he did those of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and former President Goodluck Jonathan. He cannot escape the moral responsibility for whatever those and this government failed and fails to do.

In the case of Buhari, Obasanjo like many of us believed that the president had the discipline to whip the nation back into shape, rid it of arrant corruption and impunity enthroned and sustained by Jonathan and set it on a course of meaningful change and development. The attractive flag of change waved by the party of his new love, APC, spoke to our collective ambition that we hoped to realise in the hands of a man who easily won our support.

I would also imagine that Obasanjo’s antecedent of criticising every Federal Government since he left office in a blaze of glory and encomiums on October 1, 1979, would count against him, leading his critics to dismiss his letter as the ranting of a man who believes he knows it all and is the only Nigerian fit to either lead the country or determine who should lead it with him as the guiding angel.

Let us try and be less uncharitable to him, at least on the grounds that Obasanjo is one man who has consistently demonstrated his abiding faith in the unity and greatness of our dear rich but poor nation. You may not like his method but there is always rhyme and reason to it.

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I do not think it is a particularly strong point to suggest that since the former president has free and unimpeded access to the president’s ears he should have chosen that option rather than the option of a loud voice in the market place. It makes sense too because in other lands, there is a well-honed culture of former leaders not openly criticising current leaders. But the open letter is Obasanjo’s way. It dates back to President Ibrahim Babangida’s SAP days to his 2013 letter to Jonathan in which he laid the cane across the back of his political protégé. I do not suppose he is doing it to hug the limelight. He has hugged it enough to last him two life times. It is just the way he prefers to act.

I admit that we cannot take what he said in his letter and ignore why he said it. But that option would bog us down in unnecessary controversy and blind us to what he is advocating and and why. Here is the second paragraph of his letter, the peg on which he hung the kernel of his argument that led him to ask the president to opt for “a dignified and honourable dismount from the horse:”

“The lice of poor performance in government – poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, condonation of misdeed – if not outright encouragement of it, lack of progress and hope for the future, lack of national cohesion and poor management of internal political dynamics and widening inequality – are very much with us today.”

Meaning, the change for which we invested our hope in Buhari two years and eight months ago has not happened. The president began to lose some of us when he failed to hit the ground running after his inauguration on May 29, 2015. We had expected that a man who had sought the presidency three times and won the fourth time, would come into office more prepared than some of his predecessors in office. It took him more than six months to constitute his cabinet.

He said his reason for the delay was that he wanted to be sure he put round pegs in round holes. The final products, reflected in the assignment of ministries to his ministers, did not bear this out. He rightly earned the nick name of Baba Go Slow. We have since known that his go slow was not based on the need for meticulousness but more by lack of preparedness.

Obasanjo is not the only Nigerian who is disappointed in the Buhari we thought we knew. To see him preside over a chaotic administration with his aides polarized along whatever political, ethnic or religious fault lines and reach for one another’s jugular, is disappointing, to say the least. Sure, no one suggests he has roundly failed us. No government is a total failure. Point is, there is anger and frustration in the land. It is not all his fault but as the man at the head, he must carry the watering can.

Buhari has proved himself in some areas to which he put his mind – Boko Haram and the anti-corruption war. It would be unfair not to admit that he has done much better than most of his predecessors in containing the dangerous spread of the corruption virus. Yet even here, some of his aides have rubbished him by, to use an Agila proverb, encouraging the witches to fly while people are talking about them. He has consistently shown a lack of decisiveness in dealing with some of those who embarrassed him. Heads did not roll over Maina or the embarrassment of keeping dead people on his approve list of board members. We thought the fear of Buhari would be beginning of wisdom. Apparently not.

Should Buhari dismount from the horse, as Obasanjo has suggested? His party has already said a loud no to that. The campaign for his re-election is already in the upswing. I would imagine that despite the pressure on him from his party, friends and aides, the decision rests squarely on the president.

Only he can decide his own political future. He is not going to do so on Obasanjo’s say-so, although he cannot now ignore the fact that the former president has poured some arsenic in the water.

I would expect him ignore the yeas and nays and give his decision a deep personal reflection, taking into consideration, as his aides have said, the state of his health and assure himself with the aid of professionally-informed medical opinion that he can stand the demanding rigours of electioneering campaigns. With hearts pounding in our mouths, we await his decision.



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