Ahead of 2015 general elections, unfolding events increasingly point to a political split between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his protégé, President Goodluck Jonathan. BAYO OLADEJI looks at the clout of Obasanjo and appraises the weight of his threat to Jonathan’s second presidential term calculations and the powerful options a sitting president can deploy.
That things have fallen apart between President Goodluck Jonathan and his estranged godfather, former President Olusegun Obasanjo is no longer news. But who blinks first? The last few days have been characterised by media war between the two. Political pundits see it as the beginning of the 2015 political battle in which the duo might belong to opposing camps.
Although there had been a cold war between the two leaders, right from the inception of the Jonathan administration but the last straw that broke the camel’s back was the last presidential media chat where the president replied Chief Obasanjo over his attack on him for the seemingly endless Boko Haram depredations.
Obasanjo joined a league of the cynics of the Jonathan administration when he began bashing the government over poor handling of security matters, especially the insurgency of the Boko Haram sect which is making life difficult for the people living in the Northeast and few states in other parts of the North, Abuja inclusive.
The former president recalled with nostalgia how he ordered the military to level down the Odi Community after the inhabitants had killed some policemen and soldiers. He lamented how the advice he gave to Jonathan to nip the sect assault in the bud was thrown to the wind.
Speaking at Warri during the 40th anniversary of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor’s call to ministry at the Word of Life Bible Church, Obasanjo said, “They (Boko Haram) stated their grievances and I promised to relay them to the authorities in power, because that was the best I could do. I did report. But my fear at that time is still my fear till today. When you have a sore and fail to attend to it quickly, it festers and grows to become something else.
“Whichever way, you just have to attend to it. Don’t leave it unattended to. On two occasions I had to attend to the problem I faced at that time. I sent soldiers to a place and 19 of them were killed. If I had allowed that to continue, I will not have authority to send security whether police, soldier and any force anywhere again. So, I had to nip it in the bud and that was the end of that particular problem.”
But President Jonathan who would not suffer fools gladly used the media chat to reply Obasanjo telling him his sermon that did not solve the insecurity problem but compounded it. Not a few regarded the action as a misnomer since he knows the role Obasanjo played in his ascension to power against all odds.
Hear him, “When the Odi matter came up, I was the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, and I can give you the narratives of what led to the Odi crisis. The peak of the activities of the militancy in Niger Delta was when 12 police officers were killed in a cold blooded murder. That made the federal government to invade Odi. And after that invasion, the governor and I visited Odi.
“Ordinarily, the governor and the deputy governor were not supposed to move together under such a situation. And we saw some dead people mainly old men and women and also children. None of those militants was killed. None was killed. So, bombarding Odi was to solve the problem but it never solved it.
But Obasanjo would not allow such an affront to go unattended to, he reportedly asked his former spokesman, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode to respond. The former aviation minister did not spare words either in giving back to the president.
According to Fani-Kayode, President Jonathan was factually incorrect in the substance of his references to the Odi military operation ordered by Obasanjo. His words:
“The truth is that the killing of security agents and soldiers with impunity by the Niger Delta militants virtually stopped after the operation in Odi and remained at a bare minimum right up until the time that President Obasanjo left power eight years later in 2007. I advise those that doubt this to go and check the records.
“The same thing was done in Zaki Biam in Benue State in the north-central zone of Nigeria in 2001 after 19 soldiers were murdered in cold blood and then brutally beheaded by some terrorists from that area. Again after the Federal Government’s strong military response in Zaki Biam the killing of security personnel with impunity stopped.
The objectives of the military operations in both Odi and Zaki Biam were to stop such killings, to eliminate and deal a fatal blow to those that perpetuated them and to discourage those that may seek to carry out such barborous butchery and mindless violence in the future. Those were the objectives and nothing more and clearly those objectives were achieved.
No sooner had Obasanjo fired back that some spin doctors to the President began using some pseudo organizations to condemn Obasanjo and to add to crown it all, former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon took Obasanjo to the cleaners over Odi. To Obasanjo camp, the former head of state who is still receiving flak over the hunger weapon used to fight the Igbo during the civil war was an emissary of Jonathan.
Speaking to a Lagos-based newspaper, Gen. Gowon said: “Obasanjo is highly irresponsible to have made such comments about the present government. Many people have condemned what he (Obasanjo) did in Odi and Zaki Biam. So, it was irresponsible for him to defend it or accuse the present administration.”
According to him, “I know people are concerned about the security situation in the country, but I can assure you that the government is doing everything possible to tackle the situation. I remember during my time as head of state, when we also had grave challenges. Some people said it was impossible to unite Nigeria and that we could not achieve it. Some also said we could not move the state capital from Lagos to another city.
But, eventually, we were able to subdue the security challenges. I can tell you, we would not have been able to do it, if we did not enjoy the support of Nigerians. I urge our people to love and defend the unity of this country at all times. The government should be given the needed support so that it will be able to function. I am not saying government should not be criticised when it is doing wrong, but we should not say or do things that will cause more tension and confusion in our land.”
The doyen of accounting Akintola Williams also piloried Obasanjo asking him to be more tactical in his utterances. His words, “I am sure if he considers his statements, he would not say such things. When I was in practice, I had confrontations with him, but we grew to respect each other. I would have expected him to observe complete silence, especially commenting on offices now held by somebody else other than himself.”
Reacting to the story, a former Minister close to Obasanjo said, “We know why they were saying those rubbish. They were doing the bid of the president after all they were any government in power people. They are better ignored than dignify their sycophancy. I wonder where they were when the heat to make Jonathan president was on last year.’’
Obasanjo camp is not happy with him for several reasons and they have never hiden this fact from the president. The camp is not happy that President Jonathan has never deemed it fit to involve him in taking some steps.
They listed the appointment of Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealla as the Finance Minister when he knows how Okonjo-Iwealla and Obasanjo parted ways. Jonathan was also accused of bringing in Doyin Okupe his spokesman when he knows that the former President and Okupe belonged to different camps in the Ogun State chapter of the ruling People’s Democratic Party.
Perhaps the greatest ‘sin’ of the President was his attitude toward the Southwest PDP that has no significant representation in the government. Obasanjo wanted Jonathan to kick against the speakership of Tambuwal who led a rebellious group to hijack Speakership of the House of Representatives from the Southwest.
The former president wanted the party, nay the presidency, to mount pressure on Tambuwal to step down but Jonathan was said to have told Obasanjo that since most members from the Southwest voted for Tambuwal and since he was not interested in intervening in the affairs of the National Assembly, he would rather let the sleeping dog lie.
But when asked if that is why Obasanjo was against the second term of Jonathan, a close ally to the former president disclosed that Obasanjo had told Jonathan shortly after the demise of President Umaru Yar A’dua that he would not go for second term in order to appease the North. The source disclosed that Obasanjo even disclosed this in some of the states during the presidential campaign but from all indications, Jonathan is interested in contesting.
‘Baba (Obasanjo) has made this point clear to President Jonathan that he should not contest in 2015 in order to appease the aggrieved North. Now he wants to go against that advice and he is expecting Baba to support him; that is not possible.
The presidency is going back to the North and if they think they can stop us let us wait and see. We know how he got there and we know how he would leave there. All those negative signals coming for the Villa are welcome; they cannot intimidate us,’’ the source said.
Although the Obasanjo camp has denied the story making the rounds that he had endorsed Governor Sule Lamido-Governor Rotimi Amaechi ticket but there are signals on the ground that are so clear to political pundits that Obasanjo had dumped Jonathan whom he foisted on the land.
While campaigning in Katsina, where the late President Umaru Yar Adua hailed from, last year, President Jonathan told the mammoth crowd that he was grateful to three men whom God used to bring him from obscurity into the limelight. The trio he listed were former governor of Bayelsa State, Alamiesegha, Obasanjo and Late Yar Adua.
The former governor picked him as his running-mate in 1999 governorship poll, Yar Adua appointed him his running-mate which led to his ascension to the Presidency, while Obasanjo was the catalyst that brought the whole transformation into being.
But for Obasanjo, former Governor Peter Odili would have become president in 2007. And when Yar Adua emerged the candidate for the party, it was Obasanjo who imposed Jonathan on him and again when the late President dropped dead, it was Obasanjo who championed the cause to make him the PDP candidate against all odds when the Northern elite stood their ground that power must come back to the North after the demise of Yar Adua but Obasanjo stood his ground and said Jonathan was the best man for the job. And he took him round the nation just as he did for Yar Adua.
But like Yar Adua, Jonathan seemed to have turned his back against Obasanjo allowing those who did not know how he got into the Presidency to hijack his government at the expense of Obasanjo. And the Ota farmer is a good fighter who would never accept defeat from any adversary. There are some people in the country today that the former President has stalled their movement to the greater height politically.
The list includes former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar whom he single-handedly picked as his presidential running-mate in 1998 and gave so much power to during the first term but whose ambition clashed pitted against his benefactor. Obasanjo foreclosed the plots of Atiku to succeed him instead. He handpicked Umaru Yar Adua – but his demise denied Obasanjo from paying him back for discrediting him before all eyes despite the role Obasanjo played in making him the president.
Chief Audu Ogbeh and Barnabas Gemade were imposed on the PDP as chairmen. But they allowed anti-Obasanjo forces to take over their leadership and the retired General fought back and unseated them. Ghali Umar Na’abba and Chuba Okadigbo fought him as the leaders of the National Assembly but Baba Iyabo ensured they were humiliated later on. Chuba was sacked while Na’abba was defeated by an unknown politician on his way back to the National Assembly as a senator.
Obasanjo brought the late Chief Sunday Afolabi into his government as the Minsiter of Internal Affairs, now Interior, but when the man was not ready to take orders from him, he lost his job and was arraigned for stealing the money meant for the National I.D Card project.
Tafa Balogun, the Inspector General of Police was brought down from the Olympian height by an ordinary ASP Nuhu Ribadu for alleged embezzlement. He handed over power to Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1999 at the expense of the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo but when the same Shagari denied him access to the government, Obasanjo, according to former President Shagari encouraged the military to terminate his government on the eve of January 1984. This is the man Jonathan is fighting.
The question is can Jonathan win? On paper, the odds favour the president since he has the state power to deal with any dissident but those that know better strongly believe Obasanjo is a necessary evil that Jonathan must court his support for his 2015 dream.
The argument is Obasanjo, like a high profile personality like General Ibrahim Babangida has friends across board who could fight his battle for him. Today, Obasanjo has some serving and former governors as his foot soldiers and it’s doubtful if Jonathan has any aside from the Bayelsa State governor.
When Obasanjo was doing the foundation-laying ceremony of Bells University, his pet project, some governors from the North were present and even Atiku Abubakar who could not make it sent a friend to represent him. Jonathan was not there or be represented although it is not known wether he was invited. But the occasion became a forum for the anti-Jonathan camp to strategise how to unseat him come 2015.
Obasanjo is not a popular politician but he wields a lot of political influence. He resigned as the Chairman, Borad of Trustees of the ruling PDP yet since his departure, it has become virtually herculean task replacing him. The fact remains he has a greater influence in the party even till now.
The National Secretary of the party and former former governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola is his boy any day and when some forces that were loyal to the chairman, Bamangar Tukur raised their hands against him, he flushed them out of the National Secretariat.
And the same Oyinlola is the link between Obasanjo and the chairman, National Governirs Forum, Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers and most of the governors have not forgiven Jonathan for the humiliation of the former governor of Bayelsa State, Silvia.
These are the people that Obasanjo is hoping to use in removing the rug off the feet of Jonathan. And the North would be so happy seen Obasanjo fighting for their cause come 2015 and rallying round him would not be difficult. This is why many still believe Jonathan would back down and seek the favour of the man most fear to dare.