Tracking Obasanjo’s reconciliatory moves in Southwest
•His ‘sins’, grappling with Atiku, advocates of restructuring
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently caused what many interpreted as a role reversal between him and the National Leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, by embarking on a mixed agenda of rapprochement and social re-engineering of the Southwest geopolitical zone.
Since he released his strong statement on the state of the nation at the beginning of the year, the former President has not hidden his determination to change the narrative about Nigeria’s socio-economic predicament. He adopted also a new agenda of championing a paradigm shift in the country’s leadership train.
And in what seemed a tacit endorsement of Obasanjo’s homeland politics, north/south leaders made strategic visit to the Southwest, thereby extending the cordial gestures began by the former leader.
The leaders from both divides of north and south must have seen the patriotic bent of Obasanjo’s reconciliation moves towards his hitherto politically estranged kinsmen. As a former military and civilian leader of the country, Obasanjo always sees opportunities at crucial moments and explores ways and means of redeeming the country from apparent drift.
In his statement on the state of the nation, the former President cried out that the incumbent should consider dismounting from the ‘high horse’ and join the pantheon of elder statesmen to stabilise the nation. He did not mince words to pass a verdict of failure on the current leadership of the country, noting that Nigeria has never been divided as it is in peacetime even during the war.
The recent visit and proposal by leaders of the Southern and Northern parts to form a new Nigeria Elders’ Forum (NEF), could therefore be seen as being in line with the ongoing moves to cement the nationalist mission and try to save the country from partisan political crisis.
That was the immediate impression from last week’s visit of the convener, Northern Elders Forum, Prof Ango Abdullahi on Chief Adebanjo, where some Southwest leaders were on hand to discuss the state of the nation.
Speaking after their closed-door meeting, Abdullahi disclosed that the purpose of the meeting was for the elders of the six-geopolitical zones to fashion out modalities that would put Nigeria on the path of development.
The former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University said the meeting was necessitated by current realities, insisting that it was a step in the right direction. He said: “It will give room for understanding. The next step is to meet with the leader of Afenifere, Chief Reuben Fasoranti and that of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo.
The visiting northern leader disclosed that he had met with South/South leader, Chief Edwin Clark, and expressed his readiness to meet with other leaders needed to actualise the collaborative mission.
Echoing Prof. Abdullahi’s views, the Afenifere leader said it is necessary for elders to find ways to work together in order to get Nigeria on the right path and to end the present condition in the country.
Could it be then that Obasanjo has become the new political pathfinder or skipper for the Southwest? Or did the former President find that he couldn’t go far or achieve any meaningful result in his chosen mission without the solidarity of his home base?
Showing affection, erasing old ‘sins’
It came to many as a big surprise, particularly those in the southwest geo-political zone, when former President Obasanjo began what many people saw as fence-mending moves in the Yoruba nation.
He visited leaders of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere and former Deputy National Chairman of the erstwhile ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, in Lagos.
Early on that fateful Saturday morning, the former president, popularly known as ‘Ebora Owu’ (literally, demon of Owu division of Egba in Ogun State), defied the downpour to visit the Ikoyi residence of Chief George, one of his estranged loyalists during the PDP’s reign, to commiserate with him on the death of his son, Dipo George.
But, there were more to the visit than mere condolence visit. Chief Geoge has never hidden his disdain for Obasanjo following the allegedly role the ex-president played in his corruption trial and subsequent conviction regarding contracts award at the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA), where he (George) served as chairman, Board of Directors.
Obasanjo was accused of insinuating that George would have a taste of prison experience after the former derisively referred to him (Obasanjo) as ex-convict. Both men begrudged each other such that when the erstwhile PDP deputy national chairman served out his jail term and invited Obasanjo to thanksgiving service at the Lagos Cathedral Church, Marina, he left the event venue only to address journalists and made some uncomplimentary remarks about George. Their relationship went from bad to worse until the recent reunion.
For Afenifere, before the recent rapprochement, Obasanjo was seen more or less as one of the ‘aliens’ in Yoruba land for his perceived anti-Yoruba posture, progress and his clandestine dalliance with the Northern political class to the disadvantage of his home geo-political zone.
It was in that tenuous state that Obasanjo’s sudden visit to Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the Afenifere leader at Lekki Phase 1 home few weeks ago, happened. At Adebanjo’s place, Obasanjo was to meet with other prominent leaders of the Yoruba nation, who had been opposed to his ideology and policies, especially how he carried himself both as military head of state and as President.
The meeting, although curious, did not come out entirely as a happenstance, because it left behind a poignant political message. Before the revived amity, the former President was bearing a basket of alleged sins against his people.
Obasanjo was held in disdain by the Yoruba on account of the role he played in denying one of the active progressive politicians the Southwest ever produced, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, access to the presidency in the 1979 election.
As the military Head of State, Obasanjo was reported to have said, in allusion to Awo, that the best candidate would not win the Presidential poll.
Obasanjo eventually handed over power to erstwhile President Shehu Shagari, a northerner of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), a development that continued to haunt him. Most Yoruba held that Obasanjo deliberately connived with then Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), headed by Chief Michael Ani, to rig Awo out. Up until today, the bulk of Awo’s followers from defunct Action Group (AG) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), most of who are now members of Afenifere found it difficult to forgive the former President.
Then in 1993, the former President was also said to have offended Yoruba leaders during the ill-fated Third Republic, when the winner of the June 12 election, Chief MKO Abiola, a fellow Egba man was denied his presidential mandate by former military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
At the height of massive pro-democracy struggle to actualise Abiola’s mandate and restore democracy in the country, Obasanjo went to South Africa, where he made uncharitable remarks to the effect that “Abiola was not the messiah Nigerian people needed.”
Not only that he was criticised among the Yoruba people, his influence across the country, particularly among the progressives and pro-democracy groups waned. The former president was called many names, including the derogation that a Yoruba man did not father him.
Between 1993 and 1998, when Gen. Sani Abacha was the Head of State, the former president again put up his critical posture against the government, which eventually earned him a death sentence that was later commuted to life jail for allegedly planning to overthrow Abacha. However, luck smiled on him in 1999 after the death of the military leader, as he was eventually elected as democratic President in the 1999 election on the platform of the PDP.
But, as soon as he became President; his first target for extinction was the umbrella body of the pro-democracy groups, National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). He was not only repugnant of Afenifere, he also did everything to undermine the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which was the major party in control of Southwest states between 1999 and 2003.
In the 2003 elections, the ex-president did not only deceive Afenifere leaders, who despite his (Obasanjo) ordeals with the Northern politicians gave him backing, but also introduced garrison politics code named “operation capture Southwest’ that eventually wrecked the group.
Many Afenifere leaders, like Chief Abraham Adesanya were attacked. To cap it all, the former President ensured that the AD governors except Bola Tinubu of Lagos State lost their reelection ambition. The election was later adjudged one of the most rigged in the history of the country.
Another factor that made Obasanjo repulsive to the Yoruba was his refusal to honour Abiola by recognising June 12 as the Democracy Day, despite several pleas to him. In fact, the General Overseer of the Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tinubu Bakare in several of his sermons condemn Obasanjo’s nonchalant attitude to the winner of the June 12 1993 election.
But, one other irritating ‘sin’ of the former President, as one Yoruba leader put it, was Obasanjo’s refusal to see reason why Nigeria should be restructured, despite the unrelenting and popular demand for it.
Throughout his eight-year tenure as President, Obasanjo showed no interest in restructuring Nigeria on the path of true federalism, even when he agreed to organise the 2005 National Conference, it was with a caveat, not to tamper with the unity of the nation.
In one of his interviews with The Guardian, a former Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh, said Obasanjo deliberately scuttled the ‘Yoruba Agenda’, which could have been the best way to restructure Nigeria in 2005, using Presidential power.
Other ‘sins’ he is perceived to have committed against his people include, seizure of council allocations meant for Lagos State, despite Supreme Court judgment against his decision, failure to attract significant development projects to the Southwest during his eight years in office particularly his refusal to rehabilitate the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway among others. Although many Southwesterners supported the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 election, which led to the ousting of former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the former military General’s attack on Jonathan and endorsement of Buhari is also counted against him as another error of judgment.
But with his recent rapprochement and leading the opposition from the front against Buhari’s reelection in 2019, Obasanjo’s seems to have endeared himself to some of his enemies, including the Afenifere leaders.
Beyond the visits
As has become his usual style whenever he gets tired of any administration, Obasanjo’s recent letter expressing disenchantment with President Buhari’s policies and indirectly asking him to jettison his reelection ambition in 2019, gave him good attention. Beyond the letter, the Ebora Owu also collapsed his Coalition for Nigerian Movement (CNM) into the African Democratic Congress (ADC), a platform he intends to use in the move against Buhari’s reelection in 2019. His choice of ADC followed failure of talks with Social Democratic Party (SDP) led by former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae.
As such critics of Buhari tend to agree with the desire of Afenifere and some other Nigerians who are tired of the state of the nation and yearning for a change. That is where Obasanjo’s moves got some listening ears at home.
It was gathered that after the surprise political shuttles that majority of Afenifere leaders, who eventually agreed to meet with Obasanjo appear not to be too comfortable with his choice of ADC platform. They claim the party does not look strong enough to unseat the incumbent President in 2019.
Against that background, they were said to have canvassed for a broader platform and one that could produce a candidate popular and acceptable enough across the country to get Buhari and the APC out of government in 2019.
A source at one of the meetings revealed that part of the schemes is to get the former President to endorse the call for restructuring, which is believed to be one of the crucial campaign issues to determine the next President.
It is not known however, to what extent Obasanjo has been convinced to support the restructuring bandwagon. On that score, another critical issue is said to be how to reconcile Obasanjo with his erstwhile Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who has oiled his political machinery to contest the Presidency on the platform of the PDP.
The Guardian learnt there were moves also to reconcile Obasanjo with Falae and the SDP, alongside some aggrieved members of the ruling party, like Senator Rabiu Kwakwanso, who served as Minister of Defense under his administration.
Furthermore, efforts are being made equally to cement the broken relationship between Obasanjo and the Olisa Agbakoba-led National Intervention Movement (NIM), which recently adopted the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) as its political platform ahead of the 2019 general election.
All the arrangements, sources said, are geared towards capitalizing on the expected discontent within the APC after its recent elective national convention, as well as, in the hope of capitalising on growing support from the international community, especially the United States and United Kingdom, that have expressed discomfort over the spate of killings in the country.
Although, Obasanjo refused to engage the media on the purpose of his visit, his host, Chief Adebanjo, however said the gathering was about the nation. But, despite his reticence, the fruits of the former President’s fence mending and consensus building in southwest would be seen in the days to come.