By Tunde Akande
It is very easy to hate Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s two-time leader; his truth which he dishes out with gusto judges the wickedness of many. Obasanjo led Nigeria as military head of state when not as General Yakubu did, he left the government at the promised time and transferred power to the civilians. Gowon didn’t do that, and it was the reason given for his ouster in a coup. Obasanjo came again the second time when the nation was on the brink of another civil war because a military dictator, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida annulled the popular election acclaimed to have been won by Yoruba man MKO Abiola. Obasanjo was the man thought qualified to put the nation back again and from the North, efforts were made to get him to run for the presidency. He did and won and became the president of Nigeria.
Obasanjo has never been an angel, he has his own faults, but fair-minded Nigerians will agree that of all that has had the opportunity to pilot Nigeria since independence, none has come close to Obasanjo in terms of economic performance and forging the desired unity in Nigeria. Seems each time he showed up he always built and gathered for his successor to ruin and scatter. As military head of state, he launched what he called ‘operation low profile’ which meant government expenses being curtailed by an inexpensive style of personnel of government, which is now the swansong of candidate Gregory Peter Obi of the Labour Party. When Obasanjo left, his successor late Alhaji Shehu Shagari brought in the most wasteful and corrupt government ever, consequently bringing the economy to a collapse. When Obasanjo left the government again as the president of restored Nigeria in 2007, Umaru Yar’adua who took over did nothing but waste time overturning the policies of Obasanjo. By the time he died all the gains of Obasanjo’s presidency had again been ruined.
Perhaps because of his good performances which many Nigerian office seekers will want to rubbish, they always find it necessary to discredit him. But Obasanjo is very bold. Out of office, he continues to make his voice heard. His instrument has been the letters he writes constantly speaking truth to power. For his interventions, he was roped into a phantom coup, was tried, and was about to be executed when providence saved him. From that prison, like biblical Joseph, he was brought out to be president of Nigeria. In the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, the current president, Obasanjo has written more letters than he has read publicly than at any time. This is because Buhari’s administration has been dogged by more failures than at any time. And Obasanjo has not spared the stern-looking and unforgiving general. He was the first Nigerian to openly accuse Buhari of nepotism thus opening the eyes of Nigerians to the evils of a government that is run only by members of Buhari’s family and his immediate Fulani tribe. Buhari would rather have the Fulani ego assuaged than entire Nigeria well served.
With just about five months for Buhari to complete his eight-year tenure, and with him and his praising singers saying at every opportunity that he has done his best for Nigeria as if the resources he used to do whatever he did were from his pockets, Obasanjo has come out boldly to write that what Buhari think was his best was below average in terms of expectations of Nigerians. It would seem as if Buhari came in with anger to destroy whatever is left of Nigeria after the sixteen locust years of PDP. Obasanjo in his latest letter written to the larger Nigerians but especially to the youth population, urged that Nigerians forget the past and not allow their fathers’ enemies to remain their enemies. In his opinion, Peter Obi has ‘an edge” over the three front runners for the presidency in the upcoming February 25 election. He would rather have the youth who constitute over 75 percent of the population stir themselves up, and reject the two septuagenarians, that is, Bola Ahmed Tinubu whose age remains a mystery but whose physique reveals a man who should be in retirement and Atiku Abubakar, who has become a serial contender and a spent force.
Obasanjo’s call on the Nigerian youth to bury the past and forgive ancient animosities is very healing and ought to be praised by all Nigerians. But it is not being praised by some of those who are responsible for the current problems of Nigeria especially those in the camps of Atiku, Tinubu. Tinubu and Atiku knew how to seek his help and even begged him for support at crucial times but are now discounting his political relevance saying his endorsement of Peter Obi is worthless. If it is worthless, why are they bothered? Buhari and his media aides are especially worried and are trying to rubbish him even when they clearly know that Buhari, about to leave the presidency, has made the nation more vulnerable as Bishop Hassan Matthew Kukah of the Catholic Church said recently. It must be expected because it is very easy to hate Obasanjo. He is the only ruler that is not afraid of any skeleton in his cupboard, the only one that calls a spade a spade, and does not fear to fight any giant or dwarf. Obasanjo’s clear support for the Igbo presidency must be seen in the light of one major source of instability in Nigeria which many have not clearly seen. It is the rivalry between Igbo and Yoruba. The two tribes are the first to receive western education and made great advances in it. The two are also hated by the British colonizers who fear allowing power to go to any of them. The British will rather have power to reside with the Hausa-Fulani for obvious reasons of the seeming compliance of that part of Nigeria, which is quite deceptive, complaisance that is rapidly giving way to fierce violence unexpected to come from the north. It must be obvious therefore that a peculiarly Nigerian solution must be sought to a peculiarly Nigerian problem. The rivalry between the Igbo and Yoruba must be healed while the suspicion of domination by Hausa-Fulani must be corrected also. The Hausa-Fulani must know that domination hasn’t been of any help to them and that Britain who planned it did it for her own benefit and not for that of Nigeria.
It must be possible for any Nigerian of whatever origin to be able to aspire to any office in the land. Opportunity must be opened for any Nigerian to enter into the race of life with each person by his competence, diligence, and integrity determining his own outcome. Despite Hausa – Fulani holding to power for longer than any other tribe, the statistics of underdevelopment in that part of the nation is very appalling. And it could vastly change if a fair system that will throw up competent men and women is put in place is enthroned. Now that the generation of Nigerians that was adult at the nation’s independence, is thinning out; many are dead and many are dying, it is a good time for the next generation to be reorientated. This is the message of the latest letter from Olusegun Obasanjo.
A new generation must know that the idea that one tribe is sharper or better than the other is nothing more than ethnic pride and chauvinism that has no place in logic and nature and that it is barbaric and should be jettisoned. This won’t please an Atiku who does everything for his own unclearly articulated ambition, and neither will it please a Tinubu who from day one of his entry into the power game only does everything for himself and his family. They use their tribe and religion to divide Nigeria, but they are only interested in how much money gets into their pockets and those of their cronies. By INEC’s statistics about 75 percent of current voters are youths. With Obasanjo’s letter to these youths, Nigeria seems ready to jettison its primordial electoral attitude. Obasanjo has tried to move the youth into new modes and behaviour. Who can do it better than Obasanjo? He supported Umaru Yar’adua and saw that he was not ready for a new and fresh nation where the son of an Ijaw fisherman from Otuoke can comfortably sit with the son of a herdsman from Sokoto. He has supported Ebele Goodluck Jonathan and he has seen that he would rather look elsewhere when people are stealing the nation’s commonwealth. He gave his support when Tinubu and others in APC took Buhari to him in his house in Abeokuta but has seen that Buhari is no solution to Nigeria’s huge social and economic problems; that Buhari would rather want completed what Ahmadu Bello started, a Nigeria firmly in the iron grip of the Fulani.
Obasanjo worked with Atiku Abubakar his vice president and he has seen Atiku’s fastidiousness with money and self-interest and political scheming that emphasizes only Atiku and the Fulani. Tinubu is no stranger to Olusegun Obasanjo. The EFCC that Obasanjo created had much spat with Tinubu but tried as they did as Nuhu Ribadu, first chairman of that anti-corruption agency, EFCC said, they couldn’t get any hold on him. Tinubu is an accountant trained in the US and has his way around financial matters. With his style, the more you look the less you see. Tinubu has yet to satisfy the quest of many Nigerians on the source of his humongous wealth. He could at once claim to be an inheritor of a vast estate and at the same time claim that he grew up in an atmosphere of extreme poverty that denied him an early start in western education. On to “Obasanjoism” as Nigeria’s new political philosophy, the philosophy of reconciliation, forgiveness, competence, a new beginning, and justice, the nation may find the fresh breath she is looking for.
Tunde Akande is both a journalist and pastor. He earned a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos